May 22nd, 2009
Here’s something you may not know if you’ve been following my adventures since the beginning: I LOVE CAIRO! I know, I know, I hated it before, but for some reason I really like being here. Maybe because Aswan and Luxor were such positive experiences, or more probably because I survived India, I’m really enjoying my stay here! Could be because I’m tanned severely right now, it looks like I belong here, but I haven’t been approached by any touts or papyrus salesmen. Also I haven’t taken any taxis either.
I spent most of the morning (I got into Cairo around 6AM) sitting in the departure lounge on the WIFI. Unfortunately, as I hadn’t finished my journal or edited my pictures completely, I didn’t upload anything from there. (or did I? Oh yeah, I uploaded the pictures but didn’t upload any writing cause I was tired and didn’t feel like writing.) Anyway, a taxi driver approached me in the lounge around 10AM and I took him up on a ride (80 LE) Turns out he didn’t know where the New Palace Hotel was let alone the Soleiman EL Harby Street upon which it’s located. He stopped several times to ask directions, and even when he was actually on the right streeet, I had to direct him to the New Palace Hotel. THEN HE WANTED A TIP! “five children to feed”. I told him I wasn’t gonna tip him, and that he should be paying me extra for helping him find the place. Later, chatting to Carol and Jess (at separate times) they had the same experience. I forgot to ask how they had heard about the New Palace Hotel. Too late now!
The guy at the desk recognized me, thoug he thought I had been there about three weeks ago (its actually four months) After I checked in, I headed for the Passport Visa office, which just happens to be straight down the main street beside the hotel to Tahrir Square. I will have to find out the meaning od Tahrir cause there’s a Tahrir Square in Sanaa as well as Cairo. It was quite interesting and relatively easy to get everything done (I have a picture of myself, several in fact, and have a number of photocopies of my passport, and also still two left of my Egyptian Visa.
The building is the curved main government office on Tahrir Square opposite the Egyptian Museum, and the Passport Visa office is on the second floor. Although at first it seems a bit chaotic, all the windows (like old-fashioned bank teller windows) are in the same section and are numbered 1 to 55. I went first to Window 38, then to Window 12 where I was given a forn to fill out, then to window 43 to get stamps put on the form (3.10 LE), then back to Window 12, where the guy told me to change my one month extension to 6 months (“How much is that gonna cost me?”), then to Window 38, and the woman there wrote a number in my passport and told me to come back the next morning and go to Window 38. Took about ½ an hour in all. Easy as Pi R Squared!
I stopped at El Café Americaine on the way back and had a great cappucino and fruit flan (filled with cream). A bit pricey but worth the indulgence! I stopped at a camera shop and bought an SD card and four Everready batteries for my camera. The price was good for both. I have two empty 2 GB cards now, so I think I have enough for the rest of my trip (I seem to use about 1 a month) Anyway, I spent the afternoon wandering about downtown, hoping to find a bungee cord district where I can buy a bungee cord to replace the one I lost on the Phoenicia, getting quite lost from time to time. The streets here seem like they’re parallel. But they’re not. A bit like Winnipeg, only in Arabic.
In the evening, I ate at the hotel. A passable fried chicken with rice and some kinda tomato based soup. I spent some time on the WIFI at the hotel, uploaded pictures and went to bed quite late (for me).
20th May, 2009
Got up late. Had breakfast in the rooftop café, then went to get my visa. I stopped at Window 38 at the Passport office and gave the woman my passport and she told me to come back in an hour. I wandered around looking for a place to have shai or coffee, but nothing cught my fancy, so I went into an Internet Stop to kill time. The guy didn’t have any change when I was finished, so I still owed him 1 pound and I tolf him I’d come back and pay the balance. Unfortunately, the place I stopped to get change (I bought a Coke) gave me 1 LE coins which I decided to keep. I would have to get my change somewhere else. As I was full and couldn’t drink another Coke, I walked back to the Visa Office.
The woman at Window 38 gave me my passport back, and there was no extra charge! The 3.10 LE was the fee! Not only that, my Visa was a Temporary Resident Visa, which means I can come and go as I like from Egypt until October, 2009! I wish I had known about that earlier as I would have done it in January and avoided a lot of hassle (tip there, if you’re planning to travel in this area. Use Wgypt as a base and apply for the Visa extension as a Temporary Resident. It would have sped up the Sudanese Visa process for sure! So now I’m a temporary resident of Egypt!
I had read about Dr. Ragab’s Pharaonic Village on the net and decided I should visit that. Also as the subway goes all the way to Helwan which is opposite Saqqara on the Nile, I thought I would stay an extra day and check it out. I wandered about a bit, then went back to the New Palace Hotel for a nap. I went out for the evening and sat at a shisha bar watching people (and sheep) go by.
21st May, 2009
Got directions from the staff for the subway. The Lonely Planet Guiode said it was 800 meters from the Sakket Mekkay subway stop, but it sin’t listed on the official subway map. But the staff had told me get off at Giza Suburbs (which is on the map). Here’s the thing though. There is n “Giza Suburbs” station. There are two stops in Giza suburbs, Om Mizreen and Sakket Mekki. So the Guide was right, but didn’t explain you can’t find it on the Metro Map. So I took the Metro (Direction Giza) to Sakket Mekki. Judging by the sun, the street the station was on ran North/South parrallel to the Nile, but there is no street headed East to the Nile by the station, so I followed most of the people getting off and they turned left (North) and then turned right (EAST) by a MISR gas station, and I was on what I found out later was 6th of October Street. SO, I had a choice, right or left, and I picked left (wrong). AS the LPG said the place was 800m from the station, after a mile or so, and the island alongside the river bank ended, I realized I should have turned right. I walked back to the 6th of October Street and there, in view, beside a gas station just to the right opf the street was Dr. Ragab’s Pharaonic Village.
Okay, I was kind of put off by the cheesy front and was decidedly doubtful I had made the right decision to visit it. I opted for the three hour tour (there’s a 1,2,3,4 hour choice. The 4 hour includes the Restaurant which I figured would be over priced). For some reason (could be the heat), there’s not a lot of tourists here right now. So I rode in a boat with a mother and son from Melbourne. It’s all very Walt Disney, but the egrets nesting in the papyrus were quite amazing (there are thousands). We rode past little exhibits of people doing ancient Egyptian stuff (without a lot of enthusiasm) which makes better pictures than you’d think. And then got out for a tour of some buildings (replicas of: a temple, a rich man’s house and a poor man’s house). Hodda was our guide and she was quite wonderful. She had a relative who was a doctor in Toronto. Then we got to the replica of King Tut’s tomb! What a delight! It is well worth the entrance fee in itself. They have built the tomb as it was when it was discovered and the artifacts a REALLY WELL DONE! The only replica which doesn’t quite match the originals is the gold funerary mask, but that’s forgivaeable. The rest of the display is absolutely first rate!
We were led through some souvenir thingies (none of us bought), and then the Australians left. I went on to the Nasser and Sadat museums. Very good, and then the Pyramid and mummification museums and the Coptic display. Karima was my guide through those museums, which was neat cause Karima is a character in my book. I was pretty much left to myself on the way out, so I took my time, took a couple of pictures and left.
I stopped and had a fruit drink on 6th of October Street. The prices in Giza are really cheap cause its not a tourist area and only real Egyptians go to the shops here. I decided to take the Metro to Helwan, and rode the subway there, but I probably should have got out at Mar Giorgis first. Instead, I rode to Helwan (quite far from Saqqara) and got off at Mar Giorgis in time for the Coptic Museum closing. I got inside the church, but the priest ushered me out and demonstarted the church was closing by blowing out all t votive candles. Quite bad form for a priest I thought!
I wandered around for a bit, bought a book on the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt (very big in the Coptic world), then headed back to the Hotel. I ordered Chicken Curry and rice and got the same fired chicken I had the night before. I ate it, and shared it with the cat. Chatted with Jess from Australia. She had just come from Morrocco and I was amazed at her fortitude with dealing with the repressive patriarchy of the Arab fundamentalism.
22nd May, 2009
The Internet WIFI was down which put the Kaibosch on uploading picture to the Net. The rest you know…