Islamic Cairo

Cairo Travel Blog

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During breakfast this morning we met Tamara, who is on our trip starting tomorrow, and is one of only four besides ourselves that are going the whole way to Istanbul. Michelle asked if she would like to see Cairo with us, so the three of us walked to Islamic Cairo, the old centre of Cairo dating back 1000 years.

Both Michelle and Tamara were given the hisses/kisses of appreciation from the Egyptian men, and many said to me "you are a very lucky man, you have two wives - how many camels?" which Michelle and I decided is play-acting for the tourists.

Islamic Cairo was really odd, such a contrast - ancient mosques from 200-1000 years old (including Al-Azhar, world’s oldest surving university at 1000 years), the old city walls with the three gates of Bab an-Nasr (Gate of Victory), bab al-Futuh (Gate of Conquest) and Bab Zuweila, and the Citadel, founded by Saladin in the 12th century. Yet there was so much rubbish, piles of it standing among the rubble of half demolished historic sites, streets completely filled in with it, the building were decaying and all was shrouded in the choking smog.

We walked through Khan al-Khalili, the Great Bazaar (built in 1382), avoiding being sold tacky snow glob pyramids and camel shaped handbags, and after a long day of walking we headed back to meet our tour guide. There are only a total of twelve on our trip, which should be a nice number.

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In the afternoon yesterday I met Michelle at the airport, the we walked into Downtown Cairo. As we dodged cars and walked through noisy crowds around shops, lots of people would come up and start a conversation.

One in particular was very amusing. He called himself "Mission Impossible", which he thought was quite funny. I waved him off when he started talking to us, but he crossed the road with us anyway and kept talking to Michelle. "Why does your boyfriend keep giving me the cold shoulder? You know people in Egypt are very friendly and open minded, in the tourist areas some try to get you to buy things, but outside the tourist areas many just want to talk to you, to learn about other cultures. I am not a guide or taxi driver, I am an accountant, I was just hanging out with my friends and I wanted to talk to you because you look like nice people."

During his friendly chatter I started to get worried, because he hadn't tried to sell us anything, so I started watching my bag and Michelle's in case he was distracting us from pickpockets. After maybe fifteen minutes he started to talk about places to eat and offered to show us a really good place. I relaxed, and we followed him because he was really quite friendly and it was enjoyable now that I knew he was just a tout. The place he showed us was really nice he talked to the owner and showed us the menus, all the time protesting to Michelle (and calling her suspicious) that he was completely independent.

When we agreed it was nice, but said we weren't hungry, he shrugged and said he would show us back to where we were. On the way he passed his "family's" perfume shop, where he insisted we pop in to meet his cousin. His cousin sat us down and gave us tea - Michelle protested, saying "really, we are not going to buy anything, so if that is what you are after we won't take any tea". I sipped my tea and sat back, watching as the cousin faked offence, insisted it was just tea between friends, and then showed us all the perfumes/oils. They were actually very nice, and if he had focused on me he probably would have made a sale, but Michelle resisted even "Arabian nights" (which he described as Egyptian viagra) with smaller and smaller bottles. Finally, having had a pleasant and amusing hour, we left the shop with smiles and waves (to their grumbles). The funniest thing about the whole incident was that they tried to prove peripheral things in the sales pitch, like showing a photo of Jimmy Carter eating at the cafe, and showing the cousin owned an American passport, as if these truths validated the entire story.

Calling an early night, I slept for twelve hours, Michelle is now passing the fourteen hour mark, feeling unwell from a Singaporean tuna sandwich.

photo by: vulindlela