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Embedded Photos: 1.Nile Feluccas 2.Movie Theater 3.Khan el Khalili 3.Mint Tea
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Egypt Flag EGYPT


February 6. CAIRO Our second night at Hotel Luna wasn't as successful as the first.  Our neighbor had cranked on the heater at 4:45 and the dysfunctional machine made the whole room rumble.  I got up to go to the bathroom and could hear the rattling noise all the way down the hall and past the kitchen.  Rob turned on our heater to override the noise of our neighbor's heater with the more even sound of a normal heater.  It helped but we never really got much more rest that night.   Our bad night made us late for breakfast and when we Nile Feluccas, Cairo, Egypt arrived we were told that there was no more Egyptian breakfast because it was already cold.  It has been cold the day before and that hadn't stopped them serving it to us then.   But, even more annoying was the fact that it took them at least 15 minutes to bring us bread and coffee - the continental breakfast.  The coffee was in a jigger -sized glass to boot, instead of a proper mug like everyone else had.  We chocked it up to having been late for breakfast but that was undone when, fifteen minutes later, we passed by a table full of people eating piping hot Egyptian breakfasts.  That sort of left a bad taste in our mouths.  

With enough to see in Cairo we had decided to stay another day so Rob had asked to extend our hotel one more night.  The first man at the desk had made a call to the manager and said we could stay but as we were leaving Rob reconfirmed with a different guy and was told that they may not have room and couldn't tell us until the afternoon.  We were planning to go to the pyramids the following day and didn't want to be stuck changing hotels.  Besides, our mediocre night's sleep and poor breakfast didn't really make us that eager to stay.  Instead we just used the hour and half we  had before check out to secure a new place.  The first place we tried, Ismailia House, had a great room on the corner of the building, with a balcony, for almost half what we had been paying at Luna!  It had fewer perks like BYOTP, no soap, and no top sheet but it was clean enough and in a better location, the seventh floor of a building on Midan Tahrir with a view out one side towards the Museum of Antiquities.  The entry way from the ground floor wasn't very pretty though, more like the entry way of a druggie flop house with trash and a very dilapidated exterior.  We couldn't call the elevator on our first visit and climbed the seven flights of stairs but the staff showed us another set of elevators and we never had to walk again.  These elevators where the old open shaft variety as well but all the doors needed to be closed for them to work.  As the elevator climbed up the building it provided depressing peeks into the torn out interior of a once nice building now littered with trash and falling to pieces.  Only the marble stairs and flooring indicated the buildings more elegant days.  Cairo Movie Theater, EgyptThe floor that the hotel occupied had been neatly done up but still lacked any glamour. 

The staff at Ismailia house were an improvement over Hotel Luna as well.  While we went to collect our bags they sorted out our train tickets to Aswan for Sunday.  The travel agency charged a fee but it saved us a ticket to the station.  They also advised us on a reasonable taxi fare to get to Cairo's Islamic area, Khan el-Khalili (£E5).  The cabs tried to charge us double but we got one to come down to five pounds and within about five minutes we were transported to the eastern part of the city, just as the mosques were letting out after the noon prayer on a Friday, Islam's holy day of the week.

The squares in front of the Al-Azhar and Hussein mosques were flooded with worshipers. The ornate facades and minarets on the imposing tan-colored mosques mingled within the traditional neighborhood gave an entirely different feeling than central Cairo.  A predominantly Muslim country, mosques were throughout the city but Khan el-Khalili still held the atmosphere of a smaller place, refusing to be part of the megalopolis of Cairo.  The narrow streets and alleys that populated the area made a colorful bazaar, selling spices, gold jewelry, scarves, sheeshas (water pipes), and an array of touristy knickknacks.  Cafes full of people sipping mint tea and taking sheeshas were tucked in as well.  Sporadic tour groups waved through and the shop owners tirelessly tried to lure people in with phrases like "Only five pounds" or "Looking is free" but could usually be discouraged with a firm "No, thank you".   

We searched out a local restaurant called El Dahan and enjoyed a delicious meal of shish kebab accompanied with an assortment of salads and dips made from sesame, eggplant, and vegetables, all eaten with the help of some pita bread.  Happily full we wandered the little streets and absorbed some of the quiet chaos of the area.  North of Khan el-KhaliliKhan el Khalili, Cairo, Egypt we wandered up to the facades of the Qalaoun-Al Nasir-Barquq mosques, unfortunately covered with scaffolding.  The exterior of the three mosques lined up together would have been impressive but with the huge mud puddles that filled the streets before them and green mesh layered over their fronts it wasn't much to see.   A tout approached us to negotiate a price to see the interior and climb one of the mosque towers.  We agreed to pay too much (£E20) but he was entertaining as he whirled us through the buildings that used to make up a Madrassa (Islamic university) with small cells where students once prayed.  He claimed that the complex would be opening in a few months and it did appear the interior was well restored with some new light fixtures and other accents.  The climb to the tower was a tad precarious, across the roof on ramps and scaffolding and up a dark stairwell, but afforded us some wonderful views of the city that extended far enough to see the pyramids just at the edge of Cairo.  Being a slick dealer our guide then tried to tack on the interior of another hall for an extra ten pounds.  We wavered but finally caved in since it was likely that once the place was open again we wouldn't be allowed inside.  The hall did have a beautifully painted wood ceiling with gold accents.  But, the real clincher on all of this shady negotiating was that he asked us to lie to the man at the entrance of the complex and tell him we only paid 10 pounds for the entire tour, probably a reasonable rate.  This understanding was part of our getting to see the last hall.  We went along with him and when we exited the older man looked totally disgusted.  We knew we had been taken but a deal was a deal.  After we turned the corner back towards the bazaar the old man came running up after us to re-confirm that we had just paid the 10 pounds.  Apparently he didn't trust his colleague.  The redeeming aspect of that was learning that Egyptians didn't discriminate against tourists in their swindling so we didn't have to feel so singled out.

Before going back to the hotel we had tea at a well known establishment in the bazaar called Fishawi's.  This tea house had been open every day and night for two centuries and had character to reflect its history.  We paid for Tea in Khan el Khalili two tourist priced teas and sat to watch the people chattering away as the slowly imbibed and the men took long relaxed drags on their sheeshas.  The sheeshas contained a tobacco with molasses or sometimes a fruit tobacco, all of which yielded a sweet exotic aroma in a smooth smoky mist.  The men talked as they smoked, almost like breathing through the pipe, and let the moist smoke spill out of their mouths and noses.  

Back at our hotel we looked out over the city as the sun was setting to see the striking mosque of the Cairo citadel, south of the area we had just been, towering over the city with three tired domes and two tall minarets.  The muezzin (prayer cry) had started and we discovered that a prayer area was just below our building, the loud chants vibrating through the air.  They Muslims pray at five times of the day starting with sunset, after dark, dawn, noon, and afternoon.  The time of day could be determined by the religious hum that engulfed the city for prayer.

For dinner we didn't venture far and had an Egyptian rendition of pizza made with layered pastry dough that we followed up with dessert at Groppi's coffee house.

GREECE Athens Jan 27-Feb 4

EGYPT Cairo Feb 4 Feb 5 Feb 6 Feb 7 Aswan Feb 8 Feb 9 Feb 10 Luxor Feb 11 Feb 12 Feb 13 Feb 14 Feb 15 Nuweiba Feb 16-17

JORDAN Petra Feb 18 Feb 19 Feb 20 Feb 21 Amman Feb 22 Feb 23-24 Feb 25 Feb 26 Feb 27 Feb 28 Feb 29-Mar 1 Dead Sea Mar 2 Mar 3

ISRAEL Eilat Mar 4

EGYPT Cairo Mar 5 Mar 6 Mar 7 Mar 8

GREECE Athens Mar 9 Santorini Mar 10 Mar 11 Mar 12-13 Crete Mar 14 Mar 15-16 Mar 17-21 Athens Mar 22