Our second day in Cairo was a relax and recharge day. Hubs’ friends Sam (Syrian but Lebanese when feels like it!) and Ayman (Lebanese) were due to arrive about 8pm and our next ten days would be spent with them, sightseeing. As Hubs said, it would be useful to have men with us in Egypt and she was right.
We decided to make the most of our five star oasis and enjoy some time by the lovely pool. While we were deciding on a restaurant to eat at that night, we met Greek Australians Chris and his little sister Nikki, both from Adelaide, who heard our Australian accents. Chris and Nikki just flew into Cairo that day from Australia and had ten days ahead of them with a guide showing them around Egypt. They were both really nice and friendly, so we invited them to join us for dinner after we have a sheesha by the pool – rendezvous poolside 6.30pm, smoke sheesha while we wait for Sam and Ayman.
This is the day that Hubs taught me to play Egyptian dominoes – you start with a double, then the next four dominoes played are in a cross formation around the middle and ends of the double, then the objective is to make a move so the external numbers together to get a total number that is divisible by 5, eg. 10 (2 points), 15 (3 points), 20 (4 points) etc. The person who reaches 51 first is the winner. Takes several games to get to 51. I turned out to be a natural at this game, all thanks to level 1 maths at school 🙂 .
The afternoon was spent jumping in and out of the pool, between games of dominoes and of course a late afternoon siesta. The beds at the Semiramis hotel were so deluxe, so going to bed at night or during day was something I really looked forward to!
Hubs discovered that the hotel had billed her credit card $A200 for incidentals – mini bar etc, ‘just in case we used them’. She was livid and stormed down stairs to reception and gave the duty manager a piece of her mind, in fiery Hubba style. All I can say is that I was glad I was in the shower and missed it! Anyway, to cut a long story short, she played bad cop, and I played good cop. I went down later on to speak to the duty manager, to explain to him calmly why Hubs was so upset, that we have stayed in hotels all over the world and never before have any of them charged us for ‘the mini bar we might have’ in advance. It was ludicrous. Mr nice duty manager apologised profusely, said it was standard practice at his hotel but their mistake was not telling Hubs of this practice. Anyway, I managed to get a free dinner for two out of it, and not in the buffet restaurant like he suggested, but in the best restaurant of the five restaurants in the hotel, The Grill. Yay! Hubs also got a refund for $A200. Result! Sorted.
Sheesha by the pool was sensational – the sun was setting over the Nile River and Cairo transformed itself from a dusty ordinary looking city into a pretty city full of lights reflecting off the world’s second largest river. It was lovely. The sunset was beautiful – helped along by all the haze and pollution in the air.
Chris and Nikki were introduced to Egyptian Dominoes and we passed a few pleasant hours smoking apple tobacco through pretty looking sheeshas – Hubs complained because they used plastic disposable hoses – a symptom of the recent swine flu epidemic.
The boys finally arrived, late, and frazzled. Sam just had his beloved WRX written-off by his P-plater nephew who was lending it in Sydney, his cat was killed by a neighbours dog, and their Emirates flight to Cairo was overbooked so they were delayed and had to fly Egypt Air!
Dinner was at Abu al-Sid, (157 Shari’ 26 Yulyu (July), Zamalek), a great restaurant recommended by both Hub’s and my books on Egypt. The restaurant was really awesome – packed full which was a good sign. Hubs ordered a selection of dishes for us to all share and it was sensational! Mezze of tahini (like hommous), babaganoush, salad, grilled quail, chicken kebabs, Egyptian meatballs, molokhia – an Egyptian green soup that was really tasty, and stuffed vine leaves (a bit like dolmades). A feast! Only the boys had a beer – all the girls drank water. Although Hubs had her ‘beer’ which is coca cola. All the new arrivals left at midnight and Hubs and I stayed for sheesha. It was a really fun night.
The next day we went to Al-Azhar Mosque, one of the oldest and biggest mosques in Cairo. Hubs chose the cruddiest, oldest, most fallen apart taxi in Cairo for us to go in. This was worse than the taxi we caught from the airport. This old Peugeot looked like it had competed in every Dakar Safari Rally for the past 45 years without seeing a panel beater or a car wash. The poor car sounded sick too. The driver had to keep revving it when we stopped to prevent it from stalling. He didn’t succeed and the car stalled on a narrow road with traffic banked up behind, unable to overtake. The nervous driver tried to kick it over, but nothing. Just a sick sounding engine that was on its last breath. He turned the key again, nothing. Hubs started patting the dash board, coaxing the car to come to life (in Arabic), which made us all laugh and finally after several more attempts, the taxi started, we cheered ‘hurrah!’, and off we went. The car horns behind us finally stopped honking too. It was very funny.
At the mosque, Hubs and I had to put these flannelette dress things on with hoods – oh the joy of that in 43 degree heat! Man, we were sweltering under those! The mosque was quite nice. but pretty plain inside. I have the say that the Catholics decorated their old churches much more ornately than any mosque I have seen. But then again, I am so biased towards Rome and it’s treasures that no one can say a bad word about that city!
After the mosque we decided to tackle the heat and wander through Khan el-Khalili markets – the big crazy Cairo markets. The boys were not typical boys at all and took forever to choose what kind of sheesha to buy. We went about 5 different sheesha stalls and it was all getting too much, even for me, someone who loves shopping! Hubs sorted them out and helped them buy three lovely sheeshas and the best thing of all, Hubs and I got two free hoses! Yay! So we don’t have to smoke sheesha through plastic disposable hoses anymore! I also bought a nice mid-size backgammon set – only because Hubs said she would carry it! Yay!
We endured a couple of hours wandering the markets then took solace in the Nagib Mahfouz Cafe, named after one of Egypt’s famous writers. Aaahhh, air con….aaahhhh, fresh lemon juice….finally I was starting to cool down. Back to the oasis for a swim and siesta. Dinner was in hotel’s best restaurant, The Grill and it was lovely. Hubs chose the best and I think enjoyed her meal the most. My Cairo tummy was really starting to get me down – i spent as much time in the ladies’ room as I did at the dinner table. Boo hoo.
Up early and ready to go 30 mins after the agreed time of 8.30am – those boys are good fun but man they are slow slow slow! Always waiting! We caught a cab to the pyramids – an interesting and near death experience once again. On our way there the taxi driver kept trying to sell us camel rides, horse rides, etc etc at the pyramids. Despite us (the boys and Hubs who speak Arabic) saying a polite but firm ‘no’, the driver kept going on and on about it. In the end Hubs told him to stop talking. Approaching the pyramids, the scum bags who have the malnutritioned horses and camels kept leaping out IN FRONT of the taxi to stop us to sell us a ride. It was bloody frightening and our knob taxi driver just had to swerve to miss them.
We had an awesome few hours checking out the three pyramids of Giza. We went inside the ‘second’ pyramid and climbed down down down until we reached an empty chamber. I went inside a pyramid that is about 5000 years old!!!! How COOL!
We took a closer look at the sphinx too, the one with no nose because Napoleon shot it off when France invaded Egypt. What a tosser!! Too many of Egypt’s ancient treasures have been vandalised – but as our favourite guide said, at the time it made sense for the invaders to do that. By 11.30am it felt like it was 450 degrees, so we went back to the Oasis to cool off in the pool, and have a siesta.
Our last dinner in Cairo was to be a local fast food specialty, Koshary, a mix of pasta, noodles, rice, lentils, chickpeas, crispy fried onion, tomato salsa. A strange combo. Koshary means ‘to mix together’ and it is a famous peasant dish, street food. Surprisingly, it was really tasty and satisfying. At $A2 each, there were no complaints… not until the next morning anyway…!
Our flight to Luxor wasn’t until 6.30pm, so we checked out of the oasis, cry cry, spent the afternoon in the amazing Cairo Museum. OH. MY. GOD. It was phenomenal and so interesting. I so wished we got a guide to take us around, but all of us were being tight and also sick of haggling and fighting with the locals trying to rip us off that we brushed away all offers of guides through the museum. A mistake. But still, it was so fabulously amazing. We saw the giant stone statues dating back 5000 years, Tutankhamun’s burial coffins – one made out of pure gold and weighs 170kg, the famous and magnificent gold pharaoh mask and all of the treasures he was buried with. We saw heaps of mummies – of those of note, the mummies of Ramesses II, Ramesses III, Queen Hatshepsut (known as the ugly fat one who thought she was a man), and Tuthmosis III – these mummies are over 2500 years old! I loved the Cairo museum and it made me want to be an Egyptologist.
The boys Sam and Ayman were very nervous taking the flight from Cairo to Luxor because their luggage had expanded and gained kilos, not only from shopping in Dubai, but from Cairo – no surprise really given they bought between them 3 large sheeshas, 1 large backgammon set, 1 large religious wooden plaque, and a lantern. At the airport the crooked security officer at customs tried to bribe them saying taking whisky in your checked-in luggage was not allowed, but the problem would go away if he was given some money. Hubs took charge and agreed, suggesting that he call his boss down so we could discuss altogether what the amount of money should be. The rotten corrupt guard shut up quickly and let everyone through. We were flying domestically too. So wrong.
Bye bye crazy Cairo! Next stop, the even crazier Luxor.