Our guide had us out of bed reasonably early, determined to beat the heat. Our first stop was Saqarra. Whilst not the most impressive of pyramids, it is a bit different and there are a number of other features at the site.
After our time at Saqqara and on our way back towards central Cairo, we stopped at an Egyptian Rug making (and sales) factory. Unlike the shop in Turkey, this place was a working rug production facility.
After their schooling and home obligations (such as working on family farms) the local children are given the opportunity to learn how to make rugs, to give them another skill. At least, this is how the story is spun to the tourists like us. To the credit of the rug making facility, the place was nothing like a sweat shop and there were only a hand full of young children working the looms when we visited and they seemed far from oppressed and miserable. In fact, they very happy and friendly, inviting Michelle and Zoe to have a go at working the looms themselves. Given the speed at which the kids work, the complex patterns they have to follow and the scale of effort required to produce a rug it is most definitely a real “skill”. After the demonstration is was upstairs for a free drink and their sales pitch. They store was much larger than the one in Istanbul and it was much nicer to browse. However, the salesmen were every bit as pushy. Friendlier and funnier, but just as pushy.
Another angle of the mosque
Again Michelle was drawn to the point of almost committing to purchasing a rug (they were actually trying to talk us into buying three) but again we baulked. Not necessarily because of the cost (which plummeted as we tried to walk away) but because we weren’t sure any of them were what we wanted. The staff spent over an hour unrolling and flipping rugs for us, so we felt pretty bad when we pulled the pin and bought nothing but I took some comfort from the fact we still had a day at the end of our trip in Cairo (in case we changed our mind) and during discussions with the salesmen, I learnt that they were actually very happy to custom make a rug, from any given design. Plenty of food for thought.
A decent size mosque, eh?
Thanks to the drawn out Carpet negotiations, lunch was taken a little later than planned and thus was a little rushed. This time the restaurant was outdoors. As it was not too hot and we were under a large shaded area it was very pleasant.
The food was great. Naturally the non-inclusive drinks were even more extortionately priced than yesterday.
The narrow streets of "Old Cairo"
Fully fed, our guide Mahmoud led us to the next stop, old Cairo. This particular tour was really hectic and crowded. Coptic Cairo, as he called it, is the old town, with loads of narrow winding streets and some of the oldest churches and mosques in the world. There were people everywhere and the confined spaces meant that it was difficult to find room for our group to stop (yes, even though we were only 4 people) or for our guide to be heard over the noise of the crowd. It also meant we only managed to get a single photo whilst we were fleeing the chaos. Had the touring for the day finished at this point I’m sure we all would have been very happy and comfortably exhausted but it was not to be. Next stop, an ancient castle overlooking Cairo and a grand Mosque within its walls.
I can’t remember any of the names or history associated with them, I’ll have to read up and update this part again later J
The entrance at Saqarra
As our bags were already packed, once we returned to our hotel, all we had to do was relax and get a bite to eat before our train ride. At 9pm we waved good bye to the Indiana Hotel and the minibus drove us to the train station. After a good hour or so waiting around on the platform (trains in Egypt always run on time, Egyptian time) we dragged our heavy bags onto the first class carriage and slumped into our seats.
The seats in the first class cabin were great. They were wide, comfortable, had loads of leg room and could recline a long, long way. The support services for the first class cabin left a bit to be desired though. No running water OR toilet paper in the loos was a bit of a surprise (thankfully, we’d had plenty of warning about the need to BYO, so we were well prepared) as was the blankness of the inclusive breakfast. I didn’t think anything could get drier than the Egyptian desert, but the bread they served easily eclipsed it.
The unique "step" pyramid of Saqarra
Most importantly though, we were able to get a bit of sleep on the long journey from Cairo, in the north of Egypt, near the Mediterranean to Aswan in the south, near the border with Sudan.