Uneventful flights – which is probably what you want! 5 hours in Heathrow; enough time to window-shop (is Jean Auel’s latest/last out at home???) and have a “good ole pub lunch”!
As Colin says “Egypt Air makes Air Canada look good!”, but it got us to Cairo safe and sound. The entry visa is purchased at the currency exchange, which we actually managed to work out before we lined up for passport control (unlike several others!). Loads of people “checking” passports, but not terribly seriously (e.g., he flicked mine to the Tanzanian visa, and didn’t open Colin’s at all!). Unfortunately our bags were almost literally last off the plane, so we were kept waiting - but the taxi driver the hotel sent was still waiting for us!!!
Fun and games getting out of the very modern (2 years old|) airport – but the hooting and yelling is very reassuring and “Arabic”! Took maybe an hour from airport to hotel, where indeed they were expecting us and in short order we were unpacking and in bed (by midnight, which was really day 2).
Cairo Day 1
We all slept relatively well considering jet lag and general lack of sleep the previous nights. Up around 9 am and down to breakfast, and then took a taxi (“use only white cabs which have a meter”) to the National Museum.
A bit of to-ing and fro-ing before we had bought tickets and stored all the bags/cameras that we couldn’t take in with us…and then – wow! This should be the setting for some sort of “Night in the Museum” movie – hugely over-crowded like good old-fashioned museums (sarcophagi stacked to the ceiling, squeezing by loaded cases, women dusting with wide paint brushes, men telling foreign children who don’t speak English not to touch anything….). Although to begin with we seemed to be moving parallel to a large Brazilian group, they missed out on several rooms and took off without us. While the museum wasn’t empty, it wasn’t bad and I’ve certainly been in many more crowded museums in my time. In fact, the vast majority of visitors were locals. A fancy new museum (mostly celebrating Tutankhamen) is opening in Giza in 2012 and they are already starting to crate things up. Fortunately, all the treasures we were looking for were still there – and what incredible treasurers they were: from the founding of Egypt (4500 years ago with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt) through mummies to Alexandria and the Romans…the golden rooms of Tutankhamen were of course a highlight, and yielded the best “overheard” of the day (mother with small child to room guard looking at arguably the most famous Egyptian piece, Tutankhamen’s death mask: “what’s that?” The guard looked suitably surprised as he tried to explain to her what it was!!!).
After the comparative cool of the museum it was like walking into a blast furnace as we exited at 2:30 into 35 degree heat. We took shelter in the gardens with some refreshments. Then we walked across Tahrir Sq – noting the burned remains of Mubarek’s former HQ. Apart from that, there really was no sign of anything untoward happening 2 months ago!
Anna and I felt we’d had enough and jumped a (white) cab back to the hotel. Although the hotel had cleverly printed cards in English and Arabic with a name, directions and even a little map, our driver clearly couldn’t read Arabic and didn’t know where we wanted to go…lots of stops to ask the way (and of course we couldn’t remember precisely where the hotel was!) we made it back. Colin meanwhile had his own adventure exploring the railway station and (closed for renovations) railway museum. However, we all met up on our hotel terrace and enjoyed fresh-squeezed lemon juice to rehydrate! Wonderful local restaurant for dinner…and so to bed.
More to come tomorrow!
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