Cairo Citadel, Churches and Egyptian Museum – 28 October

We were off early to the Citadel this morning, the fortress built by sultan Saladin in the 12th city where the 19th century Mohammed Ali Mosque is built, very impressive.

Mohammed Ali mosque in the Cairo Citadel

Then we were off to Old Cairo – Coptic Cairo – the walled city within the city, where Christians once found refuge.  We visited St. Sargius Church, which was recently (last decade) pumped dry after being flooded by the Nile.  The crypt below the church, which we could only peer down into, is held to be one of the places where the Holy Family sought refuge when they fled to Egypt to escape from King Herod’s murderous intent.

We also visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue, apparently one of the oldest and most famous synagogues in the world.

The streets of Coptic Cairo are narrow and made of cobblestone.  It was quite crowded, difficult to navigate with all the other groups making their way along the same path!

Driving in Cairo must be quite a challenge – honking constantly, weaving in and out, and the road markings are, in the words of our first night’s guide, “for decoration only.”  I honestly don’t know how more people aren’t laying along the side of the road every day.  There are almost no traffic lights, yet traffic moves along fairly well.  Apparently insurance is available but good luck in getting a settlement in your lifetime.  You might as well toss the car and get another one.  Not a new one, mind you – apparently the import duties on automobiles can be as high as 100% – and there are no domestic vehicles manufactured.

A quiet time on a street outside of Coptic Cairo

Our next stop was the Egyptian Museum.  Yes, King Tuankhamun’s tomb treasures are here, including many, many pieces of jewelry, the head dress, gold coated furniture & caskets.  In fact, many of the wooden pieces have a thick layer of gold leaf on them, and then they fit one within another, like Ukranian Dolls.  Even the caskets are four huge boxes coated with gold leaf, and fit one within another.  They are so large that they cannot be practically extracted from within each other.  Each larger one was built around the outside of the smaller one, yikes!

There are hundreds of thousands of artifacts in the museum, it would take years to see it all.  We spent two hours and saw a small fraction.  I think maybe in spite of this, I got my fill.

…which brings me to the next thing.  Everyone here has their hand out, especially in the washrooms.  You will be paying to go to the bathroom, just count on it.  There often isn’t any toilet paper in the bathroom stall, even if there is a holder for it.  A young man (or woman as the case may be in a woman’s washroom) will be there with a roll, ready to offer some.  So you can take some in with you, right?  Well there is no hand towel either.  As soon as you emerge, the person will jump to the sink, start the water for you, and offer you a hand towel.  So you might as well haul out an Egyptian 5 pound note (roughly equivalent to 1 dollar) and offer it to the young person.  Not realizing all of this, I went into one washroom in the museum, where there was a posting “no tips allowed”, feeling pretty good about myself.  No toilet paper.  I turned right round and walked out, the young fellow started hassling me to pay!  I did the old “wash out” symbol and told him, “didn’t do anything, no pay” and continued right past him.  He was pretty peeved.  I guess I’ll have to get down with the local customs better…

We had lunch on “The Imperial”, a permanently moored ship along the Nile, quite nice.  Then we took photos off the top deck.  I’m not sure I would swim in that river, let me tell you!  Then again, neither would I swim in the Assiniboine, come to think of it.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at an Egyptian Cotton Shop.

We returned to the hotel for a late afternoon nap, then off to a laser light show at the Giza Pyramids.  The show was called “Sound and Light”.  It was quite impressive, lighting up the pyramids and sphynx with lasers and many different coloured floodlights, but it was all a bit melodramatic for me.  Oh well, everyone else seemed to enjoy it.  I just thought that at 55 minutes, it was about 30 minutes too long.

We had a late supper, now typing this in and ready to crash.  Dayna has re-packed us, we are prepared for an early morning departure for St. Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula.  Apparently we’re in for six to eight hours of riding in the motor coach tomorrow!  We’ll be hitting the sack early tomorrow night, as the next day we are up at 02h00 for the three hour climb to the summit of climb Mount Sinai for a sunrise service on top.  Apparently, most won’t be able to make the walk, as it’s a long, long walk up, very taxing, and quite a challenge to keep your footing on the several few hundred metres.  I don’t know if I’ll be posting tomorrow evening, we shall see!

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