Cairo - Day 1

MarHaban from Cairo, Egypt. This will be a different kind for trip for us. It is primarily a river cruise on the Nile, and our first time traveling with Uniworld. Wendy did a Galapagos cruise and we did spend 3 days on the Yangzi River as part of our China trip, but that was part of a much longer tour and this is the first time the lion's share of our trip will have been on the water.

Since the bulk  of the trip is on the boat, our opportunities to find amazing local restaurants (and then share the pictures and descriptions with you!) will be severely limited. But hopefully, there will be enough sights and experiences to keep you interested for the next 11 days.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

We left O'Hare at 4pm on Thursday. 8 hour flight to Frankfurt, 5 hour layover, then a 4 hour flight to Cairo (including a special Holiday dinner of "traditional roast goose"!). As we were nearing Cairo, the captain told us that "some of the checked bags did not make it onto the plane". Normally, this would not be an issue for us as we go carry-on, but we had to check our two bigger bags at the gate as they were oversized for this particular plane.  Luckily, they showed up on the baggage belt! Whew!!!  We were met by our UniWorld driver who took us to our hotel. Though it was about 8pm, and it was Friday ("our weekend starts on Friday", he told us), there was still plenty of traffic. It reminded us somewhat of Bangkok (but without the swarms of motorbikes), or Delhi (but without the constant honking), but also had a different wrinkle: most of the way we were on a very wide street, but it had no lane markings. So cars just drove and wove wherever they wanted! And very few traffic signals! We stopped counting near misses after 20.  Along the way he told us that Cairo has 25 million residents, out of Egypt's 100 million. In the whole country, about 75% are Muslims, 24% Coptic Christians, and 1% other...including 25,000 Jews. "We never have problems with other religions. We all get along fine." Hmmmm.....we heard the same thing in Morocco.  

Finally, at about 9pm we got into our hotel...a long day and a half...and crashed. Our room overlooks the Nile (reminiscent of our room in Bangkok which overlooked the Chao Phraya River!).

Here is the view in the daylight. If you look way in the distance over the sail boat you can see some pyramids!

The tour does not officially start until tomorrow. So we signed up for a half-day optional tour of Old Cairo today (Saturday) that they offer.

Our first stop was the Hanging Church, originally built in the 4th century AD (but rebuilt many times since). It is called this because it is built spanning two towers of the old Roman fortress of Babylon. The Christians did this to show that, after hundreds of years of persecution by the Romans, they had survived and thrived. This is a Coptic church. "Copt" is believed to come from the earliest name of the land, Gopt, meaning "dark ground". The Copts split from other Christians in 451 over different interpretations of "the Holy Spirit".

The courtyard features some beautiful mosaics, all in the Egyptian style, but none are original (they have been redone in the last few years).

Another interesting mosaic showed the Holy Family entering Egypt (complete with pyramids in the background).  Apparently, the historical veracity of this was doubted by Rome for centuries, but the Pope finally approved this fairly recently!  

Many of the walls have intricate inlays of wood and ivory. This style came to be known as Arabesque; literally Arab-esque, meaning "in the Arabian style".

Next we went to Ben Ezra Synagogue. this was originally an 8th century church, but it fell into ruins and was taken over in the 12th century by Abraham ben Ezra, a rabbi of Jerusalem. This synagogue, like many others in Egypt, was abandoned as Jews flocked to the new state of Israel in 1948 (with further migrations during subsequent wars in 1956, 1967, and 1973). Photographs are not permitted, so here is one from the internet.

Next on to the Church of St. Sergius and St. Bacchus, Egypt's most famous church. Many believe that it is built on the spot where the Holy Family stayed during their flight into Egypt.

Then, a quick picture stop at the Mosque of Amr ibn al-Aas (there was a funeral going on so we could not go inside).

This was the first mosque in Egypt, as well as on the entire African continent! Originally built around 640, the oldest existing parts date from the 900s; much of it was rebuilt in the 1980s.

Our last stop of the day was at the medieval bazaar of Kahn al-Khalili. This is primarily an open-air market selling jewelry, clothes, and metal ware, but our guide told us it is geared toward tourists. Though there were some spice sellers, we did not see any other food vendors.

We really did not spend a lot of time there, which was just as well since this market was not as good as those we have seen in Istanbul, Jerusalem and Morocco (Marrakesh and Fez).  Maybe that's because we've been to so many markets.  Or you  could say we're market snobs.

This post is notable for its absence of food mentions! Here is why:

Breakfast:  the buffet was nice but after last year's Israeli breakfasts, we were kind of spoiled.  Although...they did have donuts!

Lunch, such as it was, was a quick break with the group (6 of us) at a cafĂ© in the market (vouched for its "hygiene" by our guide Osama). We ordered coffees and teas, and shared a basket of Egyptian pitas and hummus. Again, nothing special.

And dinner tonight will be at the hotel in an Italian (!) restaurant, so we are assuming it will be good but not blog-worthy.

Therefore we will say maa as-salaamah (goodbye) for now.

Love, w&w

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