Κάιρο (Part I)- “When I die I want to be buried some place with a breeze!”

March 18, 2009

I hardly know where to begin.  Deirdre, Jeni and I had been talking about this trip for so long that by the time it finally arrived it felt very much like a dream.  Our flight left Thessaloniki at 9 am on Thursday and we had a glorious two hour layover in Athens.  (Which, if you’ve noticed a trend yet- involved the McCafe and our one-euro cappuccinos)  It was my second trip on Aegean Airlines and I am still thrilled with them, the cookie they give out on the 50 minute short-hop from Thess to Athens was basically heaven in 500 calories.  (I talk about food too much I think).  The flight was smooth and gave us a spectacular view of the blue, blue Med.  When we finally saw land I got the chills, I’ve been all over Europe but FINALLY I got another continent under my belt.  I already can’t wait to go back.

Arriving in Cairo was overwhelming, as I expected.  We had to purchase our visas there for about $15 USD and then hop on the customs line.  I won’t lie, the visa looks pretty cool all stamped up in my passport.  We were immediately pegged as foreigners and had no trouble finding a cab- although our haggling skills were severely limited at first and paid far too much for the trip (75 EGP- which is about 14 USD- most people pay no more than 50 EGP for the trip).  Still, we were relieved to be in a car and on our way.

My first impression of the city (from our flight over it) didn’t change during that cab ride.  Cairo is dirty.  By far the dirtiest place I’ve ever been.  Jessie swears she heard somewhere that a day of breathing the air in Cairo is equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes.  The smog was unbelievable.  Not to mention I’m coming from Greece where clean air/handling pollution is not exactly their specialty, and I was still stunned by how bad it was.

Our cab turned out to be worth the extra change.  Our driver had pretty decent english and explained to us all the things we were passing.  As we drove down one of the cities nicest boulevards we began noticing police officers standing every thirty feet.  Normally I am not so easily intimidated, but I was relieved when our driver explained that this was the street of President Mubarak’s house, hence the extra guard.

We arrived at the hotel expedia had gotten Deirdre “for free” only to have our fears confirmed, nothing in life is free of course.  Expedia had messed up the booking and only done it for one person so we forked the extra cash over for another room for Jeni and me.  We dropped our bags and relaxed just long enough to work up the courage to go back outside.  Throughout this time I had been trying to get a call through to Jessie Sobrino (one of my best friends from BC who is studying at the American University in Cairo for the semester) without success.  We wandered down our street to the Nile (the NILE!!!!! … I still can’t believe it) and just as we were crossing the bridge and wondering what to do next, Jessie finally got through.  Turns out we had been trying to call each other the whole afternoon without any success- for the rest of the weekend too it seemed like one in three calls went through.

After getting slightly lost we met up with Jessie and some of her family members that were visiting the same weekend outside of the Egyptian Museum.  Her friend Mark joined her in showing us hopeless Americans (and Peurto Ricans- her family) around the some of the main areas downtown.  First we cabbed it to Khan el-Kalili market- the largest in Cairo- and got a tour of the most popular parts of the market.  More on that later though.  Eventually we made it back closer to the museum and were delivered by Jessie and Mark to the GREATEST FOOD EXPERIENCE I HAVE HAD ABROAD also known as kosheri.  It’s a pretty classic Egyptian meal that is death by carbs- rice, two kinds of pasta, grains, fried onions, tomato sauce and a special spicier sauce if you’re adventurous.  I have never been so happy in my whole life (mild exxageration).  Afterwards, for the perfect dessert, Mark took us to their favorite juice bar (see photos) down the street.  Over the weekend I had six glasses of the Muhammad Ali special (which changes every day- it has whatever fruit the mixer feels like putting into it) and it never failed me once.  Around the corner from Muhammad Ali’s was the bar the study abroad kids usually frequent with 10 EGP big bottles of Stella and a very international crowd.  After a beer each we decided to crash early after a long day and thanked Jessie and Mark excessively.

Jeni and Deirdre and KOSHERI awesomeness

Jeni and Deirdre and KOSHERI awesomeness

Drinking our Muhammad Ali specials

Drinking our Muhammad Ali specials

For the next day we booked a tour online through the same company as the one I did in Milan. We  got ourselves to breakfast by 8am and downstairs waiting for the car by 9.  Again, we were immeasurably satisfied.  The woman who was our tourguide was not only knowledgeable and gave great advice about the city- she was just REALLY nice and open.  It turned out to be a private (!!!) tour so she learned our names and offered a thousand times to take pictures of us with all the sights, we even discussed boyfriends at one point.  (All three of us did a double take when she said, “Why would I want a boyfriend, I want a husband!”)

Jeni, Me, Deirdre

Jeni, Me, DeirdreSphinx and Pyramid #2 🙂

Our first stop was Giza to see the pyramids.  Thinking back on this memory, it still doesn’t feel quite real.  After wandering around the outsides, we got to go inside the second pyramid since rooms in the ‘Great’ pyramid are closed.  I wish I could have brought my camera in, it was SO creepy.  The title of this post of course comes from Jeni,  who  yelled it back to me when we were stooped completely over crawling down the tunnel to chamber where the tomb was kept.  It’s true though, being buried under thousands of tons of rock in sweltering heat is NOT my idea of a satisfying final resting place.  Our driver and tour guide then took us  to the classic scenic view  of the three pyramids  about a mile away.  While we were there, the three of us just kept looking at each other and asking “is this real?”  After having grown up learning about the pyramids (and being terrified of them, thanks Sesame Street and Bert and Ernie’s adventure inside one with mummies!) for as long as I can remember, seeing them in person/being able to TOUCH them was beyond surreal.

Token tourist picture!

Token tourist picture!

Our next stop was a perfumerie (spelling?) where the Egyptians brag about selling all the ‘essential oils’ of flowers/fruits/etc to France where they are mixed together and repackaged under fancy designer names.  I won’t lie though, the stuff did smell good.  We also pit-stopped at a papyrus store where they showed us how it’s actually made- pretty freakin cool if you ask me, Deirdre kept joking ‘I NEVER WOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF THIS’… haha.

Alright more to come but I have to go get stuff done!

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One Response to “Κάιρο (Part I)- “When I die I want to be buried some place with a breeze!””

  1. aladdino said

    I enjoy reading your blog and the photos are great.
    i do see that you write what you see and what you think is right,and it is very good and helpful for readers.
    hope to read more of your travels
    Alaa

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