On our sixth day in Cairo we ventured out on our own…. no Alanah or Gina to help.
The plan today was to visit the Cairo Opera House, the Oum Kultum museum, go pick up a costume I had ordered from Aleya (the American dancer living in Cairo) back in October, and then head back home for
We hailed a taxi, checked to be sure he had a meter and also spoke a little bit of English. We told him we were going to Opera (“Arouh Oberra”!) he nodded and we took off.
After a very short ride, he said we had arrived. But in fact we had arrived at Opera Square, the site of the old one (near Badia Masabni’s famous Casino Opera), not the current one, which is in Gezira.
To add to the confusion, I had confused the Oum Kulthum museum location with the Opera House location, thinking they were right next to each other, when they are in fact both on the southern tips of Nile islands…. but different islands. So, pointing to the map just confused him further.
Once that was clarified (“Opera gedida”–the new Opera House!) We began a ridiculously long taxi ride…. ring road, etc., which is definitely not the most direct route…. good heavens. Not a navigation win, but we eventually arrived, all of is in one piece.
The Opera complex has a music library, a modern art museum, another museum, and the Opera House itself.
I was so excited to see the big Oum Kultum statue and the others on the grounds! We took pictures, saw pretty birds, and then sat for tea.
From the cafe we could see the top of Cairo Tower (Medinat Gezira) so we decided to go check it out! After getting brave and crossing traffic on foot, we wound through some streets until we reached the Gezira Corniche, a wide road that runs next to the Nile with some lovely gardens on the Nile side.
We spotted the Cairo Tower road sign and turned down a well lit street filled with street food vendors and horse carts. The corn looks so good! But I never did try it…. I’m pretty babyish when sick so best not to tempt fate.
The most incredible tree then came into view. It was massive, with multiple trunks and it seemed like a living creature. Its branches grew down like vines, connected with the earth, and turned into new trunks. I want to know so much more about this tree!!
Cairo Tower is a Nasser Era building with an elegant lattice work exterior that is 62 stories and 187 meters tall. We went through the omnipresent metal detector and x-ray machine bought our tickets and climbed the stairs to the entrance.
On the walls all around the elevator shafts was a mural depicting people from all different areas of Egypt: Suez Canal, Alexandria, delta, upper Egypt and Aswan. So very fun to recognize things learned from Sahra Saeed in her wonderful Journey through Egypt course!
The elevator arrived and we went up, exiting on to the obervation deck. For those of us from Maine it was a lovely evening with a stiff cool breeze so high up, but for Cairo dwellers it was freezing!
Like you would expect from an observation deck, it is high up and fairly narrow. Of course it is surrounded by a shoulder-height fence/barrier but I had a moment of weak knees and dropping stomach due to the height and the edge. Totally irrational of course, but a most involuntary reaction!
I recovered before long, and it was absolutely worth the effort. Seeing the panoramic night views of Cairo, it finally hit me that we are HERE! We ran around taking selfies and other pictures of the views, spotting the Opera House, the Blue Nile boat, the Egyptian Museum, and other things we had visited so far.
I really love going up to get views from above. Every city’s roofs have such a different character!
Next up: a visit with Aleya, an American dancer and costumer who has lived in Cairo for 7 or 8 years, now. I had ordered a costume from her a few months prior and told her I’d pick it up when I was in town.
Since it was rush hour and traffic was at a standstill, we decided to attempt metro (subway) travel for the very first time. We would our way back to the Opera House, found the entrance with some help from passersby, crossed El Tahrir street (eeeeeee!!!!) and entered the metro.
The Cairo metro is really quite easy to use, as it turns out. It costs just 1 le. There are (if I remember right) just three lines, and the train directions are labeled by the name of the last stop (none of this inbound/outbound Boston business!). All trains stop at every stop.
And–very important!–there are all-women cars. Apparently men can get on an car after 9 PM, when the metro is less crowded, but at that time there is no risk of close body contact with men.
There are metal detectors and bag x-ray machines at every single metro entrance, as well as at all tourist attractions and hotels.
We rode just a few stops to Aleya’s area, came up, and, with the help of Heather’s data and Google maps, found our way to her apartment. Such a fun neighborhood to walk through, and different from other areas we had visited so far.
Of course there were lots of bakeries and other shops, also lots of fancy dress shops, upholstery places, banks, and, last but not least, a shop displaying feminine products right at the entrance of the store! Tampons are incredibly difficult to find in Cairo, so this was a big surprise. They also had lots of bath and body supplies and other such things.
We arrived at Aleya’s house, and the man in the lobby (regular guy, not concierge) took one look at us and said, “Aleya?” We laughed and agreed. Entering her place, it was such fun to sew rhr area that she has filmed her http://www.cairobellydance.com online classes! And of course couldn’t help but dig in to her fresh delivery of costumes from a couple of different designers. YUM! After a super fun fashion show of sorts, we settled on our purchases, got Paypal sent, and got ready to leave with big grins on.
As we were getting ready to go, Jaie, a friend of Aleya’s showed up, and we had the pleasure of meeting a fellow dance addict from South Africa. She is in Cairo doing some studying for bit.
During this visit we learned that there was a Starbucks nearby. Dorothy works for this company in the US and she was excited to meet employees of the same in a foreign country. After all the new sights and tastes, a bit of familiarity can feel really good, even if it isn’t a place I normally seek out at home, since Portland has so many awesome local coffee shops.
Everything was exactly what you would expect from a Starbucks… the same decor and general layout, muffins and other pastries, drinks menu, extras like mugs or bags of coffee for sale. Also the prices: American rates charged in Egyptian pounds. So, definitely not a place for the average person! But the familiarity was indeed refreshing and I was glad for the stop.
After a nice time hanging out with Aleya and Jaie, it was time to head home.
We retraced our steps to the metro and navigated the distance back to Hadayek El Koba with no trouble at all. From there it was just a 5 le taxi ride to our hosts’ place, and we were starting to recognize the area and be able to give directions ourselves. Shimaal is left, and yimeen is right. More vocabulary learned!
We were ready for a solid night’s sleep, to get ready for a lesson with Yasmina the next day, and a visit to Hallah Moustafa’s dreamy costume workshop.