Monday, July 23, 2012

A Seventh Wonder-ful Layover

We got into Egypt very early this morning & got a cab to AJ's apartment, smooth sailing.   Unfortunately, because of the way the streets are numbered, we had a difficult time locating it.  His apartment is number 20 and while we found 19 and 21 with no problems, nobody could tell us where 20 was.  Turns out this was mostly because, in a stunning feat of logic, it was over a block away.  Our cab driver was wandering up and down the streets, asking everyone in sight and in the meantime we were sitting in the back of a cab next to two of the filthiest dumpsters I've ever seen in my life with trash literally overflowing into a sea of garbage that feral cats were grazing on- welcome to Cairo.  Eventually he got AJ on the phone, he came to retrieve us, and our cab driver shed tears of joy- or possibly regular tears from the overwhelming stench of the mini dump he had inadvertently parked in.

We had some greatly needed showers after that debacle and then a driver picked the three of us up and drove us to the pyramids.  I thought driving through the streets of Cairo was so interesting, for one because it's a very monochromatic city- the majority of buildings were a sandstone color, which I felt like contributed even more to it's ancient feel.  Coming from Thailand to there, reminded me of being at work and going from the bright, fun colors of the children's hospital, over to the adult side where everything is beige.


It was so crazy to see the Pyramids of Giza in the distance as we were driving and know that we were about to visit something that we'd seen pictures of and learned about in school for years.  Even knowing in advance how large they are and how long the Egyptians spent building them, I wasn't really prepared for how enormous and incredible they are.  They don't call them one of the 7 wonders of the world for nothing.

This was a pretty hilarious little scene.

Although though it was scorching hot, we actually picked a good time to visit- there was hardly anybody there because of the combination of it being summer, the middle of Ramadan, and tourism being down post-revolution.  So it was really nice to not have to fight throngs of tourists and have space to wander around and explore- at one point we were the only people at the Sphinx, it was crazy!

The only down side was the vendors were pretty aggressive with asking us to buy things, take pictures, ride camels, etc, because business was down.  AJ actually got the worst of it because he's a guy- the opposite of how we found it to be most other places- but he fended them off.  One guy did ask him how many camels he wanted for one of us, an offer he probably entertained taking him up on.

After an exciting morning of that included not only pyramid viewing, but racing a guy on a camel in the car (he won-those things can move!), we traveled on to the Citadel.  This complex was stunning beyond words.

Among other things, it houses the Mohammed Ali mosque which is easily one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen.  The walls are all detailed with ornate gold, there are stained glass windows, in the center there is a giant intricate chandelier and all above your head there are winding rows of glowing globe lights.  I think that because I had no prior knowledge of what I was about to see, it was even more striking.

After spending some time in the mosque we walked to the viewpoint where there was a fantastic overlook of the city.

Since it was now after 1pm, blazing hot, and we had a accomplished quite a bit of sightseeing, we headed home for a little siesta before dinner.  Since it was Ramadan we had to wait until the sun went down to go to the restaurant- and when it did go down it was quite a spectacular sight from AJ's balcony.  The upside of urban smog is it does create some beautiful sunsets!

We set out to get some traditional middle eastern food but the place we wanted to go to had a huge wait because everyone was out breaking their fast for the day.  AJ & his two roommates decided we should go get some grape leaves and a drink at another place while we waited the hour and a half.  The grape leaves were a success but our hunt for a place to get a beer was not- nobody was serving any because of the holiday.  But we got a nice tour of the city & it was interesting to be there in person to see the city square that had been the backdrop of so many news reports during the revolution.  All around the city, but particularly in that area, there was tons of political graffiti- portraits of leaders, martyrs, and all kinds of liberty themed images.

After killing some time we returned to Taboula and as promised it was worth the wait.  We ordered a ton of stuff to share- hummus, babaganoush, tabuleh, falafel, chicken meatballs, kiba, mussels, salad, fried cheese.  It was all absolutely delicious- one of my favorite meals of the trip, and in typical fashion we ate until we couldn't eat another bite and then had a couple more.

After dinner AJ and Rafi decided it would probably be wrong of us to come to Egypt and not have a shusha, so they took us to this little plaza where everyone was sitting outside under shimmering silver Ramadan decorations, smoking hookahs.  We ordered one lemon and one cantaloupe & just told stories and relaxed.  It was a phenomenal way to end the last night of our crazy journey and check my 6th continent off my list!


No comments:

Post a Comment