Cairo

1

My friend David, Maya and I arrived in Cairo early in the morning, hailed a taxi and set off to the Talat Harb area to look for hotels. Our taxi driver (working on commission basis) drove us to his hotel where we were dragged in, tiredness and the thought of a bed overweighed our energy to look for another one. The hotel was cheap but awful. The rooms were dirty and the English man who run it was frankly the biggest asshole I have met in my travels. Anyways, we checked in, caught a few hours of sleep and got up for a late breakfast. David stayed in bed all day while Maya and I went to explore Cairo.

My friend David, Maya and I arrived in Cairo early in the morning, hailed a taxi and set off to the Talat Harb area to look for hotels. Our taxi driver (working on commission basis) drove us to his hotel where we were dragged in, tiredness and the thought of a bed overweighed our energy to look for another one. The hotel was cheap but awful. The rooms were dirty and the English man who run it was frankly the biggest asshole I have met in my travels. Anyways, we checked in, caught a few hours of sleep and got up for a late breakfast. David stayed in bed all day while Maya and I went to explore Cairo.

We first headed for the citadel, through a maze of streets that bore closer resemblance to Bombay than I expected. We paid, walked in and were overcome at the sight. It sits on a hilltop overlooking (or protecting..) downtown Cairo. The building itself is magnificent, but the real beauty is in the courtyard inside and the amazing hall of prayer. The roof is so ornate I just stood and stared like a dumb tourist.

Afterwards we walked down the hill and visited the two mosques facing the citadel. One of them had a fantastic interior with a tomb room and amazing carvings and paintings on the ceiling. The other mosque next door was equally impressive but in a simpler and grander way. We then just walked through mazes of alleyways and streets to find the Khan Al Khalili market, on the way being grabbed by an old Egyptian who spoke no English but indicated that he wanted to buy us tea. So we agreed and sat on the side of the road while all the kids in the area came to see what we were doing stopping in their little area. It was fantastic just to sit there and have him talk to me endlessly though I kept saying to him “agnebi, agnebi” (foreigner).

We then spent about three hours looking around the market, drinking coffee at Fishawis, eating fantastic kofta around the corner, before wandering off into the further reaches of the market where we saw only 2 or three tourists. We spent a long time there, until the sun had long gone down, and then decided to walk home along streets with Cairos rush hour creating a cacophony of sounds beside us. It was excellent.

At home we made use of the hotels roof garden to just sit and drink stella while the city hummed beneath us. Later on we went to a local tea shop for a few drinks before heading back for well deserved rest.

Up and early at 6:30 we headed down for our breakfast before setting off for our visit to the pyramids, a journey that millions of people have made before us and yet never seen through our eyes.

Our guide took us to Sakara first, to the site of the first pyramid and the tomb of Zosar. We went into his funerary chamber which was still covered in hieroglyphics that were full of colour. The walls were beautiful, showing everyday activities such as hunting, dance and celebrations. We then went to the pyramid of Unas where you can walk inside and see one of the only tombs still inside. After that we walked around the complex for a while, seeing the step pyramid and avoiding the huge Italian tourist bus by five minutes (hurrah!).

The drive then took us to the site at Dahashur where the red pyramid and the Bent pyramid stand. The red pyramid was my favourite out of all the sites, it was perfect size, design and the inside was amazing, being in the two rooms with their eerie feel and the pyramid shaped roofs. It was an experience.

Next on the trip was the notorious journey to Giza to see the sphinx and the pyramids of Khufu, Menkaure and Kafre. I was amazed at how there were SO few people. I had always been told that this place is swarming with tourists but we were almost alone everywhere we went, which made it all the more enjoyable. Anyway, we spent an hour or two here, saw the sphinx (pretty over-rated) and then headed back to Cairo.

After getting back we asked the van to drop us off at the market, and we headed back to show David Fishawis tea shop and to taste the koftas! We spent the afternoon there then headed back to the hotel to rest for a while.
Maya decided to go and watch the Sufi dancers at the citadel, so Dave and I headed out on the streets to get a beer and some food. We ended up at Stella bar and stayed most of the night since we met some great English travellers and ended up chatting for hours.

On our last day, we were panicking because we had been told about a fantastic church hidden in the garbage city behind the citadel. We had the name and approximate whereabouts but the whole time in Egypt we had asked people and nobody had heard of this place, even people who lived in Cairo their whole lives.

Luck was on our side. As we exited the hotel a taxi driver came up to us and asked us where we wanted to go. We told him the name of the place and his eyes lit up “I know this place, come I take you”. So we drove off to see if he did know. After taking a few small streets and passing the citadel we entered the garbage city, it was pretty obvious the tourists don’t come here since everyone looked at us in a different way to most locals. A pig was slaughtered in the road in front of our taxi and we realised it was not a Muslim area of town, it had to be Coptic.

We reached the ministry (what the locals refer to it as), and walked through a hallway to see the first church. It is a mountain that has been cut into so that an auditorium with place for 20, 000 people is left half submerged into the rock. Unbelievable. We spent at least half and hour just looking up at the enormity of this construction. It was quite dizzying to look up and see the mountain hanging over you, you feel completely vulnerable.

Next on the trail was the “smaller” church which had room for 2000 people in a fully underground cave. The presence in them was amazing and all the walls were adorned with carvings and scriptures. Quite unreal. Last, but not least, we headed for the smallest church, which could probably fit 1-200. It was a cosy small, dark place and we ended up sitting there for an hour just thinking about what we had seen. It truly made more of an impression on me than the pyramids did. And there was not A SINGLE tourist there.. We found out afterwards that local people do not go in there since they consider it dangerous, therefore tourists will never find this place.. it’s not in any guide books or anything I could find.. so its spread by word of mouth.

Our taxi driver then took us to the Coptic area, where we explored a Greek-orthodox graveyard, a synagogue, the hanging church and many other small churches or buildings. We then caught the metro back to our area and bumped into someone who wanted to take us to a cafe, the same one we were actually thinking of going to. So, we sat there for a few hours talking and having a few Stellas before going for a meal at a small local place showed to us by a small boy, and then heading back for our night bus to Dahab. Cairo was amazing, a huge city which probably puts off a lot of people, but if you dig a little you can avoid the crowd and see some amazing sights.

written by ghostkamera on 2008-05-09 in #world #locations #shop #culture #food

One Comment

  1. bertie
    bertie ·

    This is an awesome article! I loved reading every bit of it! We're planning a trip to Cairo at the moment, this underground church thing was just called the monastery then was it? It sounds like a super place to try and find! X

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