08 February 2004

First week in Egypt [‎مصر، מצרים], ‎2–8 February

Monday, 2 February, Cairo [القاهرة]: We saw little except for the airport, thanks to Miss Understood. She’d left her passport at home and was detained in Cairo International Airport for about nine hours. The U. S. embassy or consulate bent over backwards to allow her to stay in Egypt when we all thought she’d be sent back to America. We met a friendly and patient taxi driver named Mustafa at the airport. Exhausted, we plopped ourselves in the Longchamps Hotel [‎فندق لونشان] in Zamalek [‎الزمالك].
The westward view from our apartment's window, showing ImbabaThe westward view from our apartment's window, showing @AgouzaTuesday, 3 February, Cairo: We saw numerous apartments in Zamalek and settled on a lovely three-bedroom flat in Qasr (or Asr, with Egyptian pronunciation) Abu al-Feda [قصر أبو الفدا], at No. 9 Abu al-Feda Street, with a lovely view of Kitkat Square (Imbaba [امبابة]) and the houseboats (dahabiyyas) on the West Nile.

The view from the opposite side of the apartment is just a mess of Zamalek buildings, most shorter than ours revealing all the discarded construction materials on their rooftops. Beyond that, we can see the tallest of the Bulaq buildings: the Conrad International, the National Bank Building, the Foreign Ministry building and the particularly ugly Radio & TV Building. Only one minaret can be seen, presumably that of the Mosque of al-Qadi Yahya (the more recent one, not the older one on Port Sa‘id Street). We couldn’t wait and went right to the Khan al-Khalili [خان الخليلي] bazaar [‎بازار] in Islamic Cairo. There Miss Understood met Polly’s and my friend from 2002, Ahmed Mostafa [أحمد مصطفى], in his new store Bazar el Ekhlas [بازار الإخلاص]. In fact, he and Miss U got quite friendly while she tried on şmates [שמאַטעס] with coins on them, prompting her to say in her best George Burns impersonation, “I’ll wear this for you later.”
Bazar el Ekhlas images: Click on the thumbnails to see the full-size images.

“Later,” however, Polly, Miss U and I took a nice stroll along the Nile [النيل] discussing, among many other topics, bowling on the Nile. (I don’t remember if it was this first time returning to the Khan, but on some day there I bumped into two dear old friends from 2002, Mohamed el-Wardany [“Hamada”] and Dahab.)
Wednesday, 4 February, Cairo: Polly Grip got her coiffure tended to in the glamorous Salon Osama in Zamalek. Then, Polly and I went to Doqqi to see the Nadim mashrabiyyah workshop, but we couldn’t find it before the skies opened up and rained all over us. Meanwhile, Miss Understood got herself a new passport. We all met at ad-Dahan [‎الدهان] restaurant back in the fabulous Khan al-Khalili (Islamic Cairo).
Khan/Muski shopping images: Click the thumbnails to see the full-size images.

We visited a wonderful store for bellydance costumes and accessories we had visited in 2002, various other shops with both friendly and unfriendly merchants, and had drinks in the second-story Abu Hamza Caffe Shop [أبو حمزه كافي شوپ], which gave us a beautiful view of Hussein Square.
We got to see the umbrellas open at the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, something we never saw in 2002. To the best of my knowledge, we also went to Central Cairo and walked around the area of Tala‘at Harb Square, where numerous pedestrians seemed drunk although they weren’t.

Thursday, 5 February, Cairo: We returned to Islamic Cairo and toured the souq and other parts south of Azhar Square, including seeing but not entering the Mosque of al-Azhar, the Khan al-Zarakisha, the Mosque of Abu Dhahab, the al-Ghuri Complex (al-Ghuriyya, comprising the Mosque & Madrassa and Mausoleum of al-Ghuri), the Wikala of al-Ghuri [‎وكالة الغوري], the Mosque of al-Fakahani, the Sabil-Kuttab of Tusun Pasha, the Mosque-Mausoleum of Sultan al-Muayyad, the Wikala and Sabil-Kuttab of Nafisa Bayda, and Bab Zuwayla (Bab al-Mitwalli). Our guide also showed us all over the stunning House of Gamal ad-Din al-Dhahabi [‎جمال الدين الذهبي] including seeing the panoramic view from the roof. (See my virtualtourist travelogue about the House of Gamal ad-Din al-Dhahabi for some of my pictures.)

We had drinks at the Mashwiyyat ‘Id [مشويات عيد] on Hussein Square and saw a lady dressed more like a drag queen than like any average Egyptian.

Friday, 6 February, Cairo, Giza [‎الجيزة], Saqqara: Polly and I had seen Giza and Saqqara before, but returned via Mustafa’s taxi so Miss Understood could see them, and of course we saw things we hadn’t seen before. In Saqqara, we saw Zoser’s Funerary Complex including the Step Pyramid of Phara‘oh Zoser, the Pyramid and Causeway of Unas, and a tomb of two very close male friends (Ni‘ankhkhnum and Khnumhotep) our otherwise unintelligible tour guide made sure we understood were not homosexuals. (We weren’t necessarily convinced.)

Perhaps for anti-gay reasons, no photographs or video were allowed within the gay tomb, so I have no record of its interior.

In Giza, we took photographs intentionally emphasizing an optical illusion to make it appear we were kissing the Sphinx (Abu al-Hol أبو الهول).

Saturday, 7 February, Cairo: Along with our guide Diaa M. Abd elLatif from Hamis Travel [‎هاميس للسياحة], we saw numerous sites in Old Cairo (Masr al-Qadima مصر القديمة), including the Mosque of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As [‎جامع عمرو بن العاص], the Roman Towers, the Hanging Church (Kineeset al-Mu‘allaqa الكنيسة المعلقة), the Church of St. Sergius (Abu Serga كنيسة أبو سرجه الأثرية) and the Ben ‘Ezra’ Synagogue [‎בית הכנסת בן עזרא]. Then we moved on to Islamic Cairo and went to the Citadel (al-Qala‘a Salah ad-Din قلعة صلاح الدين), entering its Mosque of Muhammed ‘Ali [مسجد محمد علي], and seeing (but not entering) its Mosque of Sultan an-Nasir Muhammed [‎جامع السلطان الناصر محمد], then visiting the Sultan Hasan–Rifa‘i compound which comprises the Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hasan [المدرسة ومسجد السلطان حسن] and Rifa‘i Mosque [‎مسجد الرفاعي], where the Shah [‎شاه] of Iran [‎ایرا] is buried. We ate at the all-you-can-eat buffet of Soirée. Afterward, I was anxious to visit a store labeled “book shop,” but disappointed to find it was a gift shop disguised as a bookstore. Miss Understood didn’t much care and bought earrings there. I believe this was the day our vehicle passed a boy on horseback going in the opposite direction who shouted “Hello, veryone!”
Sunday, 8 February, Cairo, Alexandria [الإسكندرية]: In the wee hours of the morning, we went to the Palmyra and Miami clubs somewhere Downtown, Central Cairo, both located in the same complex. One performer in each club brought me onstage, probably at least in part due to my unconventional clothing. We didn’t pay any admission fees and saw some lovely musicians and Oriental (belly) dancers, but we were subjected to overwhelming demands for bakhshish [‎بخشیش] from all the workers. (Actually, the hostess took it upon herself to distribute our change to various workers rather than give it to us.) We wound up spending far more than we had anticipated, but still far less than at a comparable New York club. After our housekeeper Marwa left, we ate at le Peking in Zamalek and then set off for Alexandria. We arrived fairly late and went walking along the Corniche after an unwanted trek in a taxi, and we passed and marveled at the enormous Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Miss Polly checked into the spiffy Cecil Hôtel on Sa‘ad Zaghloul Square, but Miss Understood and I checked into the cheap, nearly substandard Hôtel Normandy [فندق نورماندي] on Gamal ad-Din Yassin [شارع جمال الدين ياسين] for about US$3 per night. (The bathrooms were in the hall.)

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