A view of the Nile from my room on the 23rd floor of the Ramses Hilton
A What? An all expense paid vacation to Egypt? Do I want it? Hell yes!!! So, it began on the night of 9th June 2008, Monday, we (five of us, four from Indonesia and I am the only one from Malaysia) depart Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Cairo with a stop-over at Mumbai for 45 minutes (so they say, in actual they stopped for 1 and a half hours).
After a long and boring 11 hours flight (don’t you hate it when someone get something for free and they still bitchy about it), we safely landed at Cairo International Airport around 6.50 amSince they don’t have any aerobridges (for both international & domestic airport), the plane stop at quite a distance away.
The entrance to the Egyptian Museum.
Stairs were brought in and two busses were already waiting at the tarmac besides the plane to transport us to the respective terminal.
As I was climbing down the stairs in my sleepy state of mind, I overheard the familiar voices calling my name. It was the General (he is really a General) whom I met back in Kuala Lumpur. I practically ran towards him, kiss him on both checks (I have been practicing “kissing on both checks” prior to coming to Cairo).
I noticed two cars with the word “VIP” written on it, standing motionless besides us.
“I have reserved a VIP car to take us to the terminal.” I can only manage to mumble politely, “Thank U General’.
We were transferred to the terminal.
The courtyard of Mosque of Ibnu Tulun.
It was done in lightning speed. The General would not tolerate any other way. Upon arriving at the terminal, a man in a brown suit came running towards us, collecting our passport and luggage tags.
“But, don’t we need our passport for immigration?” I protest.
“Hush !!” The General said with a smile.
Oh, boy. They are going to kidnap me and sell me to the Bedouin tribes on the Sinai Peninsular. I was wondering how much would I cost in kilogram on market price.
We walk passed through custom and immigration towards a car that parked right outside the arrival hall. Off we go towards our hotel (Ramses Hilton), passing through the famous Al-AzharUniversity ground along the way.
A chamber like passageway towards the courtyard of the Madrassa of Sultan Hassan.
Now, everyone around me looks like Omar Shariff (the Omar Sharrif that appeared out of thin air riding a camel in Lawrence of Arabia, not the one in Top Secret). How exciting.
When we arrived at the hotel, our baggage was already there and ready to be shipped to our room. We were given back our passport which has already a stamp on it. I can only muttered “oh my lord, god in heaven”. We were then being introduced to the General Manager of the hotel. Again, I can only mumble “oh”. The kind and super efficient General Manager lead us to the coffee house located on the 1st floor and seat us on a table which already littered with jugs of black coffee and fresh orange juice.
We were hungry (the food on the flight was terrible, even for an airline food). I am always a slob and a messy eater and since the General Manager was there, I was force to eat slowly and courteously (wiping my lips with the linen every now and then and pretending to be interested in the conversation).
Me, looking stupid and ugly, at the Al-Azhar Park at the lookout point. Behind me is the old Cairo.
Finally it was over. We were told to gather again at the hotel lobby at .
The bellboy was waiting for us, outside our room. I said thank you for safely delivering my bags and gave him a USD 10 dollars tips. He refused. Have I offended him? Is it too little? It is USD 10 dollars for god sakes, back home I can use it for a week. When I asked why, he told me, the General Manager gave him specific instruction not to accept any tips from us since we are VIP. Oh, we are?? I shoved it in his pocket.
We were given a huge room on the 23rd floor with a beautiful view of the Nile and the 6 October Bridge (I think it was the 6th October Bridge). I had a hot shower, change of clothes and went outside to explore a little of my own, while my room partner decided to take a short nap before .
I took a walk aimlessly without any direction and end up at a huge ordinary looking red building which turn out to be the entrance of the EgyptianMuseum. The golden death mask of Tutankhamun is on display at the museum and because of that, I am dying to go inside. We have a city tour in the afternoon, the EgyptianMuseum would probably be on the itinerary, it will have to wait.
When I arrived back at the hotel, our guide were there waiting for us. He looks bored (we don’t look like a tourist with money material) and I don’t blame him. We were horded into a van and off we go to our first destination, the EgyptianMuseum.
The ablution area in the middle of the outer courtyard - Madrassa of Sultan Hassan
Entrance to all the exhibits will cost u about LE 50 (Egyptian Pound). No cameras are allowed inside the museum, so we have to deposit it at the luggage counter (located on the left of the entrance as u came in).
After the usual security check, we were inside and oh my god, what a sight to behold. The main hall is full of statues and granite coffin of various ages and sizes. I read it somewhere, if ones wish to see all the exhibits in the museum (assuming that u spent at least 45 seconds on each exhibit, average, it would take you a good 3 months to finish).
I have never seen a museum packed with visitors before. There were people everywhere, young and old, hippies and yuppies. There is hardly any room to breathe, nevertheless, everyone seems to have a good time, you can see it in their faces.
I think this is Al-Rifai Mosque :)
The guide diligently explained some of the artifact on display. There is so much to see and there is not enough time to see it. We were practically running from one exhibit to another.
Finally we were at the treasures of the Tutankhamun exhibits. Ever since I was young (that was centuries ago), I have been fascinated with the stories of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, about the treasures they discover and how they died mysteriously.I have been waiting my whole life to see the golden death mask of Tutankhamun. According to art experts, if the earth is going to explode and we are allowed to take with us only two pieces of artfrom earth, one of those two would be the golden death mask of Tutankhamun (the other one is the “flowers of the lily” in the island of Thera).
Mosque of Ibnu Tulun
Now that it is in front of me with all its golden glory, it rendered me speechless. I was in awe. How awe would u say? Well let me put it this way, as awe as when u get an official letter from the Queen of England telling you she’s abdicated and left her throne to you, like that.
We left the museum and soon after we arrived at the old Cairo. The first place we visited (obviously) would be the citadel of Cairo built by Saladin to protect Cairo from the Crusaders. The Muhammad Ali Al-Pasha mosque (built around 1838), also known as the Alabaster Mosque because of the alabaster roof adorning the mosque is inside the citadel. Most of the visitors are required to park their car at the parking lot and walk up a steep hill to get to the mosque.
Mosque of Ibnu Tulun
Since we are a *ahem* VIP, our cars were allowed in till the main entrance to the mosque. The whole designs of the mosque (with its domes and minarets) remind me of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey. I saw it during our descending from the plane and for a second there I thought I was in Turkey. The main prayer hall is typical of any other mosque I have seen (the prayer mats being placed in a row facing the qiblah (direction towards Mecca). There is a minbar where the Imam delivers its sermons every Friday). The ablution area is in the middle of the courtyard and it is beautifully decorated.
We visited the Mosque of Ibnu Tulun. It is the oldest and the largest mosque in Cairo. The main entrance is located on a small road leading to nowhere. One might miss it.
Part of the Old Cairo.
It looks plain and simple from the outside, but when you stepped inside, you will be greeted with a huge and serene looking courtyard. I was told that the mosque was the actual landing site of Noah’s Ark after the great flood, instead of Mount Ararat. It was one of the most beautiful mosques I have ever seen. Oh, the guide also points a section of the mosque where the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me was partly filmed.
There are more mosques to follow. Next is Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. We have to pass through a chamber like passage way to get to the inner courtyard. The main prayer hall is beautifully decorated with ‘Ayat al-Kursi”, verses of the Quran and it was built in such a way that it amplifies the sound of the imam and the bilal without the use of a loud speaker. Adjacent to it is Al-Rifai Mosque. The last king of Egypt, King Farouk was buried here (I think, at this point I wasn’t paying attention).
The Cairo Tower in the distance. The Nile and Gezirah Island
It was finally Lunch time was three hours ago. No sign of food so far. We arrived at Al-Azhar parks (the main entrance is through the Salah Salem Street) which from the look of it were just recently opened. It was nicely decorated with palm trees and manicure lawns and man made ‘mini lake’.The park was full with couples and families with screaming children. There is a lookout point in the middle of the park which has a great view of the old Cairo and the citadel. With the help of a golf buggy, we were given a tour of the park.
The golf buggy finally stopped at a charming little restaurant called ‘Lakeside Restaurant’. According to the manager, it is frequent by none other than the wife of Egyptian President Mr Hosni Mubarak every Saturday (or was it Sunday, don’t blame me for not paying attention, I was hungry).
We were served by five attentive waiters who serve us salads of all kinds followed by grilled fish, chicken, beef and lamb. When the lunch was over, we had no choice but to thank the manager profusely.
We were back at the hotel around 5.30 pm. The traffic on the way back was heavy. The air is cooler as the evening approaches. We were told to be at the lobby at 7 pm. We have dinner appointment at Maxim Nile Cruise. The mere mention of a Nile cruise reminds me of romance, grandeur and glitter.
“There would be belly dancing show during dinner”. Someone added.
“A what?” I asked
“Belly dancing. You know, the one which there is a scantily naked lady shaking her hips from side to side”. He added. Who cares about romance and grandeur.
Al-Azhar Park. The citadel and the Muhammad Ali Mosque in the distance.
It has belly dancing show. I’ll be here at I promise them.
As promise, I was at the lobby at 6.30 pm. Not really, I lied. I was dead tired. I fall asleep soon after I was in my room. I was there at . We left the hotel exactly at . It was a short distance away from the hotel, crossing the famous Kasr El Nil bridge to the other side of the Nile. From the car, I can see clearly the two lion statues standing quite majestically, guarding the entrance to the gate. Kids (and adults) were busy playing around, taking pictures and having a wonderful time. Just two days ago, prior to arriving in Cairo, I saw a black and white motion pictures shot by the Lumiere Brothers in 1897 (I am really not sure about the date).
The tourist version of the "swirling dervish" dance during the Maxim Nile Cruise.
It clearly shows people were strolling along the Kasr El Nil Bridge and the two lion statues can be seen clearly in the film. It was the first motion picture shot by the Lumiere Brothers outside of Europe. Now that I am seeing it with my own eyes, I felt kind of strange.
Technically it wasn’t really the other side of the Nile. At some point in the past, it deposited enough sand to create a lush island in the middle. It looks like it branches off into two and re group again. It never did. There is actually an island in the middle of the nile called GezirahIsland. The beautiful Cairo Tower, the highest building in Cairo standing tall at 187m (43m higher than the biggest Pyramid in Giza) is on the said island (which is I am proud to say, can be seen clearly from my room).
When we enter the floating restaurant, it was already full with Japanese tourist and locals. Everybody seems to be culturally motivated too. There was an enormous salad bar. I ordered a glass of pepsi. I don’t normally drink soda, but I need the sugar to keep me awake. The main course consisted of either fish or beef. I’ll take the beef. I am scared sh*t of fish. No kidding.
Dinner was uneventful but the entertainment was spectacular. First there was a one man performance by a “swirling dervish”, dance usually perform by a Sufi where they swirl in a black and white robe for hours and hours to be near to God. This is the tourist version of the “swirling dervish” dance. Instead of plain white or black robe, he was in brightly colored costume doing acrobatic tricks ala cirque de soleil.
One of the tourist boat plying along the Nile.
It was fun. Soon after, the highlight of the show, the one we’ve been waiting for, the belly dancing act. It was different from the one I imagine it would be. She is amazingly pretty, shaking her hips from side to side according to the rhythmic sounds of the drums. She danced the night away for almost an hour.
After the show we adjourned outside. The restaurant cum boat was cruising along leisurely along the Nile. The sky was beautiful and the orion belt is visible which is rather appropriate for a night like this. There was a cool breeze. It was amazing. I was half expecting someone to drop dead in-front of me, with a knife on his back and Hercule Poirot suddenly appear and announce “Nobody is allowed to enter or exit the boat. One of us is the murderer”, which is fine with me. I don’t want to leave anyway. It was heaven.