Friday, April 22, 2011

Cairo and Giza

Our travel from Cape Town to Cairo took nearly 24 hours with stop-overs in Johannesburg and Istanbul. The approach and descent into CIA gave us an initial feeling of just how large and densely populated Cairo is. Our drive to our hotel allowed us a glimpse of the grinding poverty and squalor of the city. Cairo is a paradox of rich history and spiritual people caught in an era of corruption and abuse of human rights … but that was before “25th January”.

Upper-Middle Class Apartment
The drive to our hotel, the Mena House, took over 1½ hours to go approximately 24 miles. Traffic is very heavy even today, a Sunday afternoon. We drove through areas that had unfinished construction projects, piles of uncollected garbage, roads of broken pavement, and crowds of meandering people. Where were the benefits of the “revolution”?

"Light" Traffic on a Sunday Afternoon

However, amidst the squalor and traffic there is an atmosphere of uncommon pride and joyfulness … Egypt is Free. Egyptians are free to believe in a better future for themselves, their families, and their country. It is a wonderful time and a wonderful time to be an American in Egypt.

Having arrived in the late afternoon we settled into our hotel with no plans to go out. It was our good fortune to receive an upgrade to a Suite in the old Palace section of the hotel. The suite had a separate living room, a dining room, two bathrooms, and a large bedroom. Three balconies provided spectacular views of the Pyramids of Giza.

The Great Pyramid of Giza

The room was decorated exquisitely with traditional murals, screens, paneling, gilding, handcrafted furniture, antiques and rich tapestries. We were experiencing the separate and extremely different worlds of the “haves” and the “have not’s”. We had a difficult time with having more than enough, when we could see and feel the impoverished conditions of the masses of people who live in Cairo and Giza. 
We met our guide and driver early the next morning for a tour of Islamic Cairo. Our first choice was Central Cairo, with visits to the Egyptian Museum and Tahrir Square, yet we were discouraged by the hotel … “the Museum is closed due to the possible danger associated with protests in the Square”. Later we found out that the Museum’s closure was grossly exaggerated … disappointing.
On our way to Khan al-Khalili, Cairo’s most magical yet most touristic-type bazaar, we drove by:

Northern Cemetery Contains Mixture of Tombs and Homes

In the area of Cairo known as al-Arafa there is a city of the dead. But the necropolis also is inhabited by living people. Due to the high rents and housing problems in Cairo, poor families are forced to relocate to al-Arafa, where they have turned the cemetery’s tombs and mausoleums into homes. They show no signs of fear as living in a cemetery has become commonplace.

Mosque of Mohammed Ali
Mohammed Ali is regarded as the founder of modern Egypt.

Welcome to Khan al-Khalili:

Entrance to the Bazaar

Sandal Shop

Sheeshas (Waterpipes)

Scarf Merchant

Spice Vendor

Fishawi’s , Cairo’s Oldest Coffee House
Khan al-Khalili is, of course, a major tourist attraction...reminded us of Pier 39. Hordes of tourists arrive here to stock up on the kitsch and souvenirs that are sold in nearly every shop in the bazaar. Not our idea a day well spent. Back to the hotel.

Modern Cityscape Along the Nile River
After freshening-up (showers and gin/vodka & tonics) we were off to the Pyramids for the Sound and Light Show at sundown.

The Pyramid of Giza, the Sphinx, Gus & Joan

The Sphinx

Sound and Light Show

Tomorrow we leave early for Aswan to begin our Nile cruise. Leaving the hotel at 5:00 am for a 7:00 am flight we realize that we have time to buzz Tahrir Square and its Surroundings on our way to the airport.

The Square at 5:30 am

The Egyptian Museum - View from the Square

Unidentified Building on the Square

N.D. P. Headquarters

Kasr Al Nile Bridge


 Our final few miles to the airport:

Army Escort to the Airport

Good bye and good luck to the wonderful people of Cairo.

As-Salāmu `Alaykum.

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