3rd day: Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, another Khan, Citadel, Egyptian Museum, sleeper to Luxor
Cairo Travel Blog› entry 3 of 9 › view all entries
April 11th, 2009 – by: Transitory
We entered the train station. The floors gleamed with care, as the station is closed from approx. 1 to 8AM I hear. We purchased our tickets, a very economical 1EGP, fed the ticket into the machine, watched it spit out and I put mine in my pocket as a souvenir. I took pictures of the train station much to Anny's embarrassment. A few people turned to watch, I hope it wasn't illegal to take pics in Cairo, as it is in the NYC metro.
The train came quickly before I could find the women's car that I had read about, and we packed in. Our train was all men, they carefully trying to maneuver around us, so as not to touch, most staring, and a couple asking where we were going, etc. We got off a few stops later, maybe 4 in Coptic Cairo. As the train was pulling away, we noticed the train car DIRECTLY behind ours was the women's car. It was half empty :D.
Walking up the stairs to the exit, Ann asked where my ticket was to exit the station. Hmm, I fumbled, searched, Ann got impatient and said to buy a new one, when I found it. Aww, bye souvenir!
We exited to a street with tall walls on each side, we feeling directionless. Luckily, there were lots of tourist police whom we asked where the churches were. They grinned and asked "American?" and pointed us in the direction.
We walked the grounds, and inside St. George's church, and through the cemetery. Then wandered down the stairs into the fortress like compound that is Coptic Cairo, stone pathways sandwiched between formidable walls. It was a quiet morning with a few old ladies going to church. I was reminded of my grandmother by an older woman in a stern black dress and short heels clicking her way to church with a grim expression as befitting of the pious.
Ann and I arrived a bit earlier than 9, the time to enter Ben Ezra synagogue, so we sat on a low stone wall by one of the churches, after taking a peek inside of the service and the relics.
It started to "rain," yes in Egypt it rains, well for a total of maybe 5 minutes of the spottiest, lightest rain that can't even be called a drizzle. By the time we entered Ben Ezra, the place that orig. housed the Cairo Geniza documents that recorded the history of the Jewish people, and exited, the rain stopped. We walked around the side after a tourist police officer opened the gate for us. He tossed a pebble into the well and asked, "Did you hear that? That's water.
We nodded and then he pointed to another area where the water below could be heard. Then he asked for $5 dollars baksheesh. Haha. Ann countered with, "for what?" in her typical blunt, take no prisoners way. Since I read on the Lonely Planets guide that it is customary to give a little something for police around the grounds, and he did open the gate for us, I just gave according to the LP guide, which was 2EGP, 1 from the each of us. He asked if we didn't have any American dollars, Ann told him we didn't and that we were poor students. So he thanked us and wished us well.
We left, walking out the pathway we came, and the police said that we couldn't walk in one direction and had a barricade, so we walked the opposite direction, out of Coptic Cairo.
We entered a nearby mosque, took off our shoes, and were given green wrap around hooded sheets to cover ourselves. Padding around on the carpet to the marble floors in a quiet mosque
From the clean grounds of the souq to the broken sidewalks strewn with donkey shit, we took yet another taxi, to the mosque near Khan el Khalili. The taxi driver was very hospitable, slowing down by any site he thought might interest us, and I got a good chance to practice my Egyptian Arabic.
More sight-seeing: multiple mosques, to another Khan where we saw slaughtered animal carcasses and streets stained with blood, yum.
Later the Citadel, where crowds of friendly Egyptian children surrounded us asking "Where are you from? How do you do?" while taking pictures of us with their camera phones. Nope, I didn't expect that! Then their teachers came to rush them out out, slapping them with these little switches, haha, don't worry it was just a light switch and only playful slaps, accompanied by "Yala, yala!" Then the kids would run back to us to take more pictures after faking that they were following their teacher :)
Walking down the hill, some taxi drivers approached us. We asked how much to get to our hostel, and they claimed because of the time of day and traffic that it would be 80EGP.
We got back to the hostel tired but our room was already taken over since we checked out in the morning. We hung out in the dining room chatting with a young teacher named Jamie who was based out of Pretoria, S. Africa.
After a bit of rest, off to the Egyptian Museum we went, only 4 blocks away. It was full and quite humid and hot, no temperature control to protect the antiquities...Security was also lax, as another tourist banged his hand against a sarcophagus, exclaiming "Solid!" Charming.
We returned to the hostel two hours before we were scheduled to leave for our sleeper train to Luxor so the management offered us a spare room.
There was a fight on the train platform, several men got on the train, while the conductors on the train pushed them off, back and forth, on, pushed off, on, pushed off. Loud yelling in Arabic, wild gesturing, pushing, and confusion commenced, esp. as the train wasn't even partially full...
While we were waiting, Ann went to buy herself some snacks, so she asked me to look after her bag. I looked at where she was sitting and there was a bag sitting between Ann's seat and the next person, an Egyptian woman. So I discreetly grabbed the bag and moved it more to Ann's seat, thinking that it was crowding the woman. The woman turned around and glared but did not say anything, I was unsure why she seemed so annoyed.
Right, I sort of inadvertently stole a bag! :D I started apologizing profusely, the woman didn't seem to understand what I was saying, while her husband was shrugging off my "theft." Ann was laughing and calling me gangster.
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