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The much-awaited Cairo.. Part I

I made it back from Cairo safe and sound and it was absolutely AMAZING! Jessie and I crammed a week’s worth of activities into 3 days and since there’s so much to tell/show I’m doing two separate entries (otherwise I’ll probably lose everyone’s attention, including my own)

I flew into Cairo from Frankfurt last Tuesday and met Jessie at the airport (after a few delays on both sides). Jessie is one of my roommates from college who studied abroad in Cairo and lives there now. It was so unbelievably good to see her. We grabbed some shawarma for dinner on the way back to her apartment (a döner, in German) and just hung out since I got in kind of late. Also- a disproportionate amount of this blog will be dedicated to food. Apologies if you’re hungry.

Wednesday we’re up and off to the pyramids in Giza by 10am. Contrary to popular belief, Giza isn’t that far away from downtown Cairo at all. pyramid Jessie mentioned how it’s actually a little disappointing to see the pyramids next to some of the bigger buildings of Cairo- we felt they kind of deserved their own space. They’re intimidating in person. I knew they would be big, I just had no idea exactly how tall they were. (And yes Cala, and all you Despicable Me fans, they were real). Only one of the main three has some of the original limestone covering left- the rest was stolen to be used as decoration in palaces around the city. The big three were built to be tombs for kings while the smaller ones were for the queens (typical). The pyramids are right in the desert, and in order to get a good view of all of them you have to walk a ways. There were plenty of chances for camel rides and I figured, when in Egypt, and made Jessie ride a camel with me out to the viewpoint. Top ten terrifying moments of my life: when a camel gets up and/or kneels down. I was 90 percent sure I was going to fall. Our guide felt comfortable enough with letting me guide our camel “pepsi” and once I got over my fear of falling off it was pretty cool. (yes, that is me- the tiny person in front of the pyramid, about 1/3 way from the left)

camel So after our camel ride we see the Sphinx and head back into the city. We then embark on a tour of Jessie’s favorite part of the city: Islamic Cairo. (I apologize in advance for the lack of knowledge about the names of the mosques. If I find them I will gladly put them in). We decided to make our way from the north end of the city to the south-  those are the locations of Cairo’s two main gates successfully used to protect the city from invaders (you can even see where they spilled hot oil from). Our first stop on the trail of mosques had absolutely beautiful doors (Jessie’s favorite part)- and she tells me that in ancient times, doors were taken and brought back to the city as a symbol of victory.

The first mosque was one of my favorites (along with the last one, which is Jessie’s favorite). This one had a huge open courtyard with a big fountain in the middle- each mosque has a fountain so people can wash their hands and feet before they pray. Almost every inch in the mosque, aside from the courtyard, was intricately decorated. mosque You would think all of the patterns and designs would make it look too busy, but it all flowed together really well. Islam doesn’t allow idols or images in the mosques, so instead everything is expressed geometrically, and the hexagon is especially predominant. There were also intricate wooden carvings that used to be filled with ivory, but the ivory was stripped and sold at one point when the mosques were raided.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant which (thankfully) had air conditioning upstairs- Jessie complained it was “cold” aka 80 degrees. Jessie ordered (yay Arabic skills) for us- a hummus-like dip with garlic and pita bread, and a cheese fatir which we split. The fatir is kind of like an Egyptian calzone but has a flaky dough layer on top. Kind of like what you’d find on baklava but not sweet. Oh and we also had good mango juice. Then back through the rest of the market and onto the mosques. We must have gone in at least 7 or 8. Each one was unique- but most had an open-air courtyard of sorts which I really appreciated (it only rains twice a year in Cairo). We even climbed up one of the minarets of one of the mosques which was another one of my top ten terrifying experiences. But the rickety staircase held up and proved to be worth the climb. We could see for miles from the top- I didn’t really grasp the fact that Cairo really is in the middle of a desert until then. Everything’s pretty sand-colored but still nice to look at. We could see the bigger mosques, the path we had walked, and the “westernized” part of town (mostly composed of hotels where foreigners stay).

We (safely) climbed back down and went to Jessie’s favorite mosque. It was really beautiful with a huge open courtyard, billowing curtains, and a white marble floor. j's mosque I can definitely see why she loves it. We relaxed there for a while (not to mention our feet were tired from all the walking) before moving onto the city gate. From there we made our way back into the maze of the bazaar to Fishawi’s- a famous coffeehouse. It’s been open for 300 years (it’s open 24 hours, only closed during Ramadan) and is a favorite spot for both tourists and native Egyptians (which is what I think makes it so cool). I had some tea (with mint!) before we met up with one of Jessie’s friends from work to go see a Sufi whirling show.

The Sufi are whirling dirvishes who spin to get closer to God. There were musicians too- mostly on drums and an oboe-like instrument- and then a few men who spun. It sounds kind of boring, watching people spin around for over an hour but it was actually really entertaining. The first guy spun for almost half an hour by himself! I have no idea how he didn’t fall flat on his face. The “spinners” wore colorful outfits and multiple layers of large skirts which spun with them, and they removed at certain points throughout the performance. I did get a few pictures where they look still but I feel the ones in motion give a better feel for it. whirling dirvish

Okay so all of that happened in ONE day (Jessie literally is a master of leading sightseeing). Needless to say we were exhausted, ordered in food and went to bed to prepare for the next few days (more Cairo and Alexandria)! Since this blog has taken me way too long to write (I blame uploading the large-file pictures) I’m going to end it here but I’ll get to part II tomorrow or Saturday!

Other random updates:

I got a package from home today!! … and I’ve been stuffing my face with peanut butter cups and oreos ever since. amazing.

Since Germans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas season is in full swing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but it feels a bit early for everything….

My attempts to build a lacrosse team are going well- we had 12 girls at practice yesterday which was the same amount the guys had- hah!


November 11, 2010 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment