Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 8 - From one kind of Cairo to another

Today is our last full day in Cairo and what a full day it ended up being. The tour company was generous enough to give us a driver for the day, but no tour guide. This worked out great, as we would have had no idea how we were going to get around. We had a list of places we wanted to see from friends that had visited the area, so we gave it to our guide and off we went.

Since we were so close, we made a pit stop again at the Khan al Kahlili market. This time we brought some Egyptian outfits for the girls and some other little gifts for friends and family. The market is so different first thing in the morning. Most of the shops were still closed and the shop keepers are mostly cleaning from the day before. They would take water in buckets and throw it on the ground trying to keep the dust down, so we spent quite a bit of time dodging arches of water. This only created mud, but somehow that was better then the dust. Go figure.

Then we headed for the Al-Rifa'i Mosque, which was breathtaking inside. Our driver did come inside with us and help with the tour, which was very nice of him. He also told the front admissions person that I was Libya, so we were able to get the local rate, as opposed to the foreigner rate. I spent most of my time inside the mosque taking photos. Honestly, I wasn't as interested in the history of the structure as so much as all the details everywhere. The carvings were on the walls, doors, window screens, ceilings, domes, columns, chairs and tombs. It's surprising that the guards inside weren't carved too. This mosque is the final resting place of several important people in Egyptian history, including Khushyar Hanim, who had the mosque commission for her son, the Turk Isma'il Pasha and King Farouk, the last King of Egypt before he was overthrown in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Until WWII, the Shah of Iran, Rezā Shāh, was also buried there and now that tomb is occurred by his son's body, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was Shah of Iran until 1980. Rezā Shāh’s body was returned to Iran, in case you were wondering what they did with it.

In the same complex (and using the same ticket) was the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, which was another wonderful example of the Mamluk architecture of that same time period. Again, we got a wonderful tour from our driver, but mostly he backed off and left us alone to enjoy the decorations again. A madrassa is the Arabic word for school.

We left both mosques and headed for the Gayer-Anderson Museum. Unfortunately, due to the parking situation outside, our driver was not able to come in with us. He told us we would be fine, to just show the admission person my passport (which says born in Libya) and ask them to let us in for the same price as the locals. Well, this didn't work. The admission person said that it didn't matter where I was born, I was holding a US passport and would have to pay the foreigner fee. Honestly, if this was a real important location in Egyptian history, we would have gladly done so, but since it wasn't, we declined. If you were curious, the price for a foreigner is 30 Egyptian pounds and the price for locals is 2 Egyptian pounds. So we walked next door to the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, which was far more impressive and free. I later found out that parts of the James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, was filmed in the museum, so I can just see the film to see what I’d missed, I suppose.

We left and headed to meet a friend, Ahmed Amr, the writer for NileMedia, who used to live in Seattle. Ahmed had our driver drive us around the district and told us stories about what the streets used to look like when he was a kid. He also pointed out the palace of the current president of Egypt, Mubarak. We then headed to a great book store and I was left to go through the kid's books while he took my DH for tea next door. I managed to cause quite a bit of damage to our credit card stocking up on books that I will use for my storytelling sessions for the King County Library System this fall (at the Lake Hills Library, wink wink). After the bookstore, we were taken back to our hotel by our driver, who we'll see tomorrow for our flight to the airport.

We were to meet Ahmad later for dinner, so we decided to go for a walk and explore our area one last time. We ended up at the local aquarium, also called the Grotto Garden. This garden was surrounded by the embassies of foreign countries and couldn't have been out of palace if it had arrived by an alien ship. We didn't even mean to go in, but the guard at the door insisted we come in so he can give us a tour. We were the only ones in there as he said the hours were from 8pm to 6am since the locals needed entertainment in the evenings to beat the daytime heat. Being the only ones going on a tour with a strange guy who keep insisting on taking our photo every ten minutes was odd to say the least. The fish in the tanks didn't look too good and so many of the same types were just in different tanks. There was one large area that was like a huge cave with hundreds of bats and stuffed exotic fish. I was very ready to leave this area that felt very haunted and sad. As we were leaving, the guard of course expected to be paid. But we only had a little bit of change with us, since we had left our backpack in our hotel room. Despite giving him well over the local fare that was posted in the entrance, he still expected more "since we were on a private tour." Geesh.

At around 8pm, Ahmed came back to the hotel and picked us up to take us to the Nile Lily, a local restaurant that just happens to be situated on a stationed cruise ship. We were to join a party he had been invited to that evening for the local Rotary Club new officer’s election. This party was full of high class people decorated in tuxes, beautiful gowns and diamonds listening to a singer who sang songs in English with an exquisite voice that sounded like a young Frank Sinatra. People were dancing check to cheek on the top deck of the boat as our meals were delivered to us by immaculately dressed waiters walking around white love seats to deliver our meals under the white curtained gazebos. This was so different then the Cairo we'd seen days before. Each plate of food looked like it was picture perfect and tasted just as good. Meanwhile, the breeze was flowing off the Nile, along with the sounds of the smaller moving entertainment boats that were floating by filled with women and men dancing to old Egyptian songs. I felt like I was watching two worlds simultaneously having a good time, unaware that the other existed.

We left the party, way too late to comment on here. We made a stop as Ahmed needed to drop off some books at a friend’s house. It was none other then the famous Egyptian painter Mostafa Razzaz. Umm, yeah, that Mostafa Razzaz. What an honor to be invited in his home sharing tea and stories of art exhibits he'd done in the past. I asked him to join my database of my non-profit organization, Arab Artists Resources and Training. We finally left at an even later hour and headed to the hotel to try to get a few hours sleep before our early morning flight out of Cairo.

Tonight I'm going to leave you with images of our delicious dinner on the Nile Lily.

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