Cairo Blog Day 8 201512: Opera House, Cairo Tower, Metro Foray, & Aleya

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.

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Cairo Opera House

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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Cairo Blog Day 7: On our own in Cairo! Khan el Khalili, Tanoura, Belly Dance Show

On our fifth day in Cairo we ventured out into the city without a guide for the first time! However, we had Alanah with us and we were meeting up with Gina so we weren’t exactly unchaperoned.

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On the agenda was Khan el Khalili, a tanoura show that Nibal recommended, and finally a belly dance show–Egyptian dancer Sahar on the Blue Nile boat!

After a nice, relaxed morning, we caught a taxi near Alanah’s house around noon and headed to Khan el Khalili.

Instead of taking the main roads the whole time (don’t worry, we were indeed going the right direction!) the taxi driver took us through the City of the Dead. This is an enormous Muslim cemetery which we have driven past many times, but this was the first time we entered.

In every Muslim cemetery in Cairo there are above-ground tomb-houses (not unlike European cemeteries–but Egyptian style), not grassy expanses like in the US. Many of these are also populated by live people–not just the dead. Families often have arrangements with people who live there in exchange for taking care of the tombs and preventing the graves from being robbed, which can happen for medical purposes or for material gain.

So, if you didn’t know otherwise, you would simply see a dense community of quite formal-looking small houses, complete with satellite dishes and laundry drying out the windows.

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Eventually we arrived at our destination, Khan el Khalili market once again (and for the correct taxi price–yay!) We found our way back to El Fishawy cafe, and ordered some delicious lunch…. plus tea with mint, of course!

The pashmina vendor was relentless. Others have been persistent but this guy just would not take no (la’!) for an answer so we pulled out some functional Arabic words that we had learned: “Helas” (“be done”, essentially) and finally Masalaam (“goodbye”)… which finally worked.

Soon Gina joined us and we started our wandering through the tiny and exciting streets of the old market. We all had various goals… I was in search of a tea set.

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We found a shop with various metal lamps, pots, trays, and more… after figuring out some rates we wandered on, planning to return later after comparing.

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A bit further on, we found a place selling tea sets with an owner who was not overbearing. The further we looked the more fun stuff we found, single glasses out of full sets, perfume bottles, and so much more.

After a couple of hours of browsing, we were famished. Then appeared at the end of a street (we had pretty much done a loop, returning to an area near the entrance of the market) the beautiful Nagib Mafouz cafe! It is a beautifully decorated and very quiet oasis in the middle of the market… quite a contrast to the outside. It is also wildly overpriced. But, hey, we are tourists after all, and very much in need of refreshment.

By overpriced, I mean this: at El Fishawy we paid about 80 le (maybe less?) or about $10 for a dish of fuul (bean dip), five falafels, five pieces of bread, and a round of tea and coffee for us all. (Yes, locals certainly pay less…) At Nagib Mafouz cafe, we paid 180 le or about $22 for an order of baba ganoush and drinks/juices for all six of us. Not bad at all for US prices but quite high for Egyptian prices.

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I had sahlab, a thick hot milk drink with coconut and nuts and raisins to mix in. So delicious!

The cafe also had free wifi–like gold! We learned from Nibal that, unfortunately, Sahar was not going to be dancing that night after all. Darn!

Meanwhile, I also heard from Shahrzad, an American dancer who was in town for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan winter session, that there was a show that evening at the Nile Fairmont, a 5-star hotel on the Corniche. Soraia usually dances there but she is currently on break so Kawakib would instead be performing. I had heard great things about Soraia but Kawakib was a new name to me. However, we were up for the experience. We hadn’t seen any dancing yet, and the hotel nightclub experience was exciting!

After a bit more shop wandering, it was time to head to the tanoura show!! Gina knew where to go so she led us directly there, across a street, around a corner, and down an alley to an unmarked arched wooden door.

From there, Gina and Alanah headed home, so we were on our own for the rest of the night! A bit nervous but hooooopefully now with enough experience to find our way around for the rest of the evening.

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The tanoura show was inside of a huge stone hall, which we have since learned was the courtyard of a former shopkeeping establishment. The area where the show was held was where the animals would hang out during business hours while their owners were doing business outside. The place is three very tall stories high, and each level is lined with doors. It is stunning!

Oum Kultum singing Enta Omri played over the loudspeakers as we waited for the show to begin. Heaven! We hear her voice drifting out of every corner in Cairo…. That is a wonderful thing!

Finally the show began. This was a first for all of us, and it certainly won’t be the last time! Wow….

The musicians first introduced themselves musically, including my favorite, the enthusiastic toura (giant zills) player. The number of sounds he can get our of two metal disks is just mesmerizing to me!

A group of 10 or 12 male (all performers in this show were male) dancers/practitioners then came out, joyfully filling the stage. They were dressed in long white robes with green sufi vests over them. (There is probably an official term for this attire… let me know if you know it!)

Then the first whirler came out. He started to spin, and the other performers made various changing formations around him, weaving around the stage. This man whirled for probably 45 minutes, with the music and dance around him.

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In the second half, there were three whirlers, one in yellow and two in green, in a choreographed or lead/follow formation, with at least 4 or 5 different skirt layers making spectacular colors.

The music and power and ecstacy is not communicated by what I have written. So far…. I hope that you can come to Cairo and experience it yourself!

After the tanoura show we were elated–but gathered ourselves and went back out into the alley, past a large local outdoor market and around a mosque to a main street to find a taxi.

We know to look for a specific official black and white taxi, and to be sure it has a meter that gets started as soon as we get in the car. But first we need to tell them where we are going and they can decide whether or not they want to go there. Of course, we can also accept or decline.

We found a taxi that looked good, and told him we were going to the Nile Fairmont. He was at first confused… then Dorothy said Fairmont Hotel. His face lit up and he said, “Ah, Fairrrrrrmont Hotel!” and we took off. We learned that we need to get much better at using an Egyptian accent with English words. But our first solo taxi ride in Cairo was a success!!

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Entering the fancy pants Nile Fairmont Hotel we suddenly felt terribly underdressed! However, the staff was very kind, leading us to a table right next to the stage. On stage when we arrived about 10 PM was a wonderful 7-ish-piece band with a female singer in beautiful black robes with gold and red accents, singing Oum Kultum classics. Couldn’t ask for a better start!

See a video of this singer here!

The next act was a pop/shaabi singing duo (a woman and a man) accompanied by a man on keyboard. While these performers were entertaining for a few songs, their act went on for close to two hours…

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Finally, a bit after 1 AM, the dancer’s band took the stage. There must have been 12-14 musicians, including oud, accordion, and so much more. So thrilled! The show went on till nearly 3 AM, two full sets with a costume change.

Here’s a short video of Kawakib!

Since the hotel had free wifi, we decided to try Uber to get home. Since it was very late, we didn’t want to wake Ahmed with a phone call for directions unless we had to. (This is normal taxi behavior here.) The Uber arrived promptly… but I had chosen the wrong address since the real one wasn’t on Google maps. Sigh… They were expecting a phone call but still!

We arrived home happily exhausted…. zzzzzz…….

Cairo Blog Day 6: Neighborhood Lounging

On our fourth full day in Cairo we took a day of rest. Sleeping in nice and late, right through two calls to prayer, we had a lazy afternoon sipping tea and indulging Filli, Alanah’s adopted dalmation.

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Hayley doubtfully accepting the affections of Fili, the former Cairo street dog

For the first time, we walked around the neighborhood a little bit in daylight. Alanah’s street is very narrow but also quite busy. Various vendors, selling sugar cane or shoes or offering to buy old things from people’s houses, will lead their donkey carts down the street announcing themselves as they go.

With cars parked on both sides there is only room for one vehicle at a time to pass, so the constant negotiations happen, deciding who will pull over if there is room, or who will back up. It’s quite a friendly street, and quieter than much of Cairo, constant flurry of activity aside.

Across the street is a primary school. Around the corner is a pharmacy, next to a small bread bakery. A lady at the next corner also sells bread, and around that corner is a fruit and veggie store plus two general stores where we have been buying warer and other basics. Further down is a delicious bakery, and a crepe stand, too!

The tap water in Cairo is officially safe to drink. However, it is heavily chlorinated, which would it difficult for our American stomachs to process. While one can get used to it in a couple of months. We have less than two weeks, so we’re sticking to bottled water….. or tea! Lovely tea!!

El Arosa (the bride) is the most popular tea here. It’s Lipton red label, a very fine tea that you spoon into your cup, add sugar, maybe mint (my preference), hot water, and stir. The tea grounds settle to the bottom so you just have to be sure not to gulp down that last sip or you get a mouthful of ick. Heh!

The other super popular tea here is karkadeh. This is made of hibiscus, ideally loose handfuls, with boiling water poured over them. You can also make it cold. Sugar can be added or not… Delicious every way!

This tea helps to lower blood pressure, so it should be avoided by those with already low blood pressure and also avoided by pregnant women. (That explains why hibiscus makes me sleepy!) This seems like a very useful tea in such a busy city.

Side note: in the word karkadeh both kefs–the “k” sounds–are actually pronounced! Egyptian Arabic typically does a stop, sort of dropping the kef sounds, so this is really rare.)

That evening, we made plans to hang out with Gina, a friend from the Boston dance community who moved to Cairo in September. Her husband is studying at Arabic at a university here now so they are living here and very much enjoying the city. Gina made us a lovely dinner and we had a fabulous time hanging out and talking about dance, philosophy, Islam, Cairo and more.

After dinner, they walked us to the nearest busy street to find a taxi, and we passed a 24-hour bakery…. you know we can’t just walk by! They were rather generous with the free samples so of course we had to bring home tons of new and delicious treats. I wish we had a photo of one of our plates of baked goods but we always eat then up too fast! Will keep trying…. hehehe.

After getting into the taxi, we were passed by a truck with two kids holding onto the back….. and one was wearing a sweatshirt from a clam shack in Wells, Maine! What a crazy coincidence!

That night we slept so well….. full  of dal and baked goods and the kind of happiness that only comes from an evening spent with friends

Cairo Blog Day 5: Citadel, Old Cairo, Coptic Cairo, Felucca Ride, Mohamed Ali Street

On our third day in Cairo proper, we toured sites within the city. Nibal picked us up at 9 AM. While waiting, we heard children at the school across the street from Alanah’s house reciting the alphabet in English. It took a moment for it to register that it was English since the simply made sense to us… and then, lightbulb!

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First stop: the Citadel. This is an incredible structure high up on a hill. Before today’s Cairo was built around it, the location was perfect to spot any approaching enemy armies. Waterless moats were dug around it to make approach even more difficult. Those former moats are now busy highways with an awesome view!

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Upon arrival, Nibal arranged for us to get tea and coffee from the guards, and we sat in the sparsely populated parking lot sipping tea on the cobblestone curb while Nibal gave us a brief history of Cairo’s early development to set the stage for what we were about to see.

The Citadel contains many different parts built by different eras’ rulers. Just outside the entrance is a catapult that was used to send boiling oil over the ramparts. Medieval walls surround the stunningly elegant Mohammed Ali mosque (correct me if I get anything wrong–limited fact checking available during to spotty Internet connection!) which has minarets all added in different times.

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As everywhere in Cairo, beautifully carved windows and doors just won’t let me pass without adding them to my photo collection!

From the Citadel we went to Coptic Cairo, passing the first mosque ever built in Egypt along the way. It was built in the late 600s.

While the word Coptic has other meanings, it Egypt it refers to the Egyptian Christians. Some of what we saw dates back to Roman times.

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The main site we visited in this neighborhood was the Hanging Church, so called because it is suspended in the top of a tower. Sadly many facts are escaping me, but there were some incredible stories about escape hatches and very early Christianity.

When we visited, the electricity happened to be out, leading to an even more peaceful visit than ever. While this church is a tourist site it is one that manages to remain very quiet and reverent.

One thing that Dorothy noticed…. the stained glass is very thick! Mabe an inch or so, from what we could tell… very different from what we see in the United States!

Exiting the Hanging Church we retraced our steps down a street lined with tourist shops and eager vendors. We decended a few stairs into a doorway that led to Old Cairo… some of the ancient streets lined with places of worship for Christians, Muslims, and Jewish people alike, all close by.

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One incredibly old church that we entered had 3 or 4 storey high ceilings with wooden beams criss crossing the galleries. Rounding a corner in this unique building, Nibal showed us a (now blocked) crypt where the young child Jesus and his parents were said to have hidden for 6 months.

This area is not just a relic…. it is an active part of the city where people still do live.

In the historic synagogue we took some time to rest…. and discuss among our group how our upcoming presidential election will affect the entire world. It is good to get out of our US bubble, especially at this point in time, and see what the world holds.

We have so far felt incredibly safe here in Cairo. Obviously, it’s a big city with some of the issues that come with that, and we are being smart. The vast majority of people we have encountered have been very kind. When we need directions no one is rude, and if they cannot understand our accents they typically at least try. Rudeness is certainly not a commonplace trait… not counting the sometimes, shall we say, overeager vendors at the tourist sites… which is no different than any other place I have visited.

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After a full day, we still had the Egyptian Museum on our agenda. Nibal, who has a background in art history, took us directly to many of the top things to see, filling us in with far more info than could be seen on any plaque.

This museum is filled with treasures from the pyramids. FROM THE PYRAMIDS. Some over 4 thousand years old. It’s hard wrap your mind around the fact of a man made object that old…. even when they are right in front of you! I look forward to returning to the museum on a day when we can linger!

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After seeing so many new things and trying to comprehend the reality of their existence, I found myself giddy and stumbling.

It turns out, the absolute best way to recover is a sunset felucca (small sail boat) ride on the Nile, with a dinner of hot khoshary (rice, lentils, macaroni, and a delicious tomato sauce).

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The Nile is a peaceful oasis in the middle of a city of 20 million people. Our captain was from Aswan, an area to the south that I hope to visit one day.

Feeling refreshed after an hour of relaxing on the water, we had one more very important visit to make: Mohammed Ali Street, the historic musical center.

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While today much has changed, this is traditionally the place where musicians lived, where dancers would hire their bands, where instruments were made. With Nibal’s help, Dorothy was able to find the perfect instrument. While things have changed a great deal, I’m thrilled we were able to visit this area, so relevant to the history of our art form!

Happily exhausted, we all fell asleep in the van while our self-titled “Superman driver” battled evening traffic, returning us safely to Alanah’s house.

Cairo Blog Day 4: Sakkara, Dashur & Giza Pyramids

Our second full day in Egypt… THREE different pyramid sites!

We got up early to meet Nibal at 8 AM. After our valiant driver battled traffic we drove through Giza (passing the Cataract Pyramids Resort, where we stayed in March) and on to Sakkara, to visit the Pyramids and tombs there.

Since we hadn’t eaten before leaving the house we stopped for fruit at a donkey cart on the side of the road on the way to Sakkara. Bananas, tangerines, and fresh raw dates–yum!!! All peel-able so our tummies were safe.

The famous step pyramid at Sakkara dates from before 2600 BC… that’s old!! It’s currently being restored so part of it was surrounded by intricate wooden scaffolding. The tombs are from the 4th and 5th dynasties, if I remember  correctly, filled with incredibly detailed relief work and hieroglyphics inside and out. On one we saw not only red and black paint remaining but also blue and green! Nibal carefully explained the imagery to us, noting some incredible details.

We were able to climb down into the burial chamber of King Ti, just 10 meters down a narrow and low tunnel. Hieroglyphics of course lines the walls. Stars lined the roof. And the solid tomb from which the sarcophagus was pulled lies partly open, allowing us to look inside and see where the mummified king once rested!

Eventually we said goodbye to Sakkara, and moved on to Dashur. Here there is the Bent Pyramid, whose construction began at 54 degrees, but partway through it was discovered that was too steep and not stable enough. They modified the and of the rest of the pyramid to 43 degrees–and all pyramids after were also build at that angle.

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Heading up the Red Pyramid at Dashur!

At Dashur, you can climb deep inside the Red Pyramid, from 2050 BC, which has a reddish hue due to the granite use to build it. First you climb up the outside of the pyramid, 35 meters up, the you go down 65 meters into the burial chamber of King Snefru, the founder of the 1st dynasty and father of King Hofu (who built the Great Pyramid).

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View from the Red Pyramid at Dashur.

I opted to climb up the outside but not to go inside, while Hayley, Dorothy, and Heather had the full experience… Instead I had a lovely sit on the outside of the pyramid, high above the desert! The December air was absolutely perfect… a gentle breeze and so comfortable to sit outside.

Next, we headed to the Giza pyramids. We were nearing the end of the daylight hours, so the sun was no longer beating down. We just made it in before the site closed for the day.

The Great Pyramid sits on a perfect square taking up 13 acres, and it’s roughly 140 meters tall…. woah. (Nibal told us the exact height but I have forgotten the specific number!) It has lost only 9 meters in height in the over 4000 years of its existence!

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The Great Pyramid at Giza

The stones of the Great Pyramid are huge. Each one comes up to about belly-height on me. It’s awfully fun to sit on them and dangle your legs over!

Once again, Dorothy, Heather, and Hayley were eager to go into the Great Pyramid. Nibal and I sat at the base of the pyramid and chatted, overlooking the Cairo skyline. It was heavenly. 🙂

When the ladies came out of the pyramid we hurried back to the van, where our driver took us up a road into the desert to a special place where you can see all three large Giza pyramids and the smaller ones in front. The sun was starting to get close to the horizon and the guards did not want us to go through but Nibal is a genius and managed to convince them!

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Me looking doubtfully at the camel

When we arrived at the site, camels were waiting for is to take us through the desert to the site of the Sphinx–about a 20-30 minute ride. Heather, Dorothy and I climbed on with the help of the drivers, and the camels lurched up.

The camels are very, very tall. They get up on their back feet first so you have to hold onto the saddle and lean way back. Then their front legs come up and you have to lean fowrard, still holding tight to the saddle.

And from there we trotted through the sand, with a changing view of the pyramids as we traveled around them, at one point seeing all nine at the same time!

A camel’s hooves are made for walking through the sand. Of course! But to observe it in person really makes you understand… as with many things!

We came around the front of the pyramids and the head of the Sphinx appeared. Yippeeeee! We all managed to descend from the camels in one piece, feeling both totally tourist-silly and exhilarated from a new experience.

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The Great Pyramid and the Sphinx

But the day wasn’t quite over! A stop at the Egyptian Perfume Palace is a must when you’re in the area! When we walked in, the folks who were there when I visited in March recognized me immediately, one fellow in particular asking me many times to send “Alanda” a big hug. She had made quite the impression. 😉

These perfumes are in fact essential oils… after a wonderful smelling experience  (and also a falafel and karkadeh dinner!) we left with papyrus, nard and lavender. Mmmmmmm…..

We had one more stop but that deserves a post of its own! The Mazaher zar ensemble at the Makan Center…… coming up next!

Cairo Trip Day 3 – Khan el Khalili & Noussa

Our first full day in Cairo was wonderfully full!

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Nibal picked us up at 10 AM and we headed straight to Khan el Khalili, the old market in the center of Old Cairo.

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Delicious food at El Fishawy

We started with breakfast at El Fishawy cafe: fuul (a bean dip), musa’a (aubergine dip), pickled aubergines, and a special falafel, plus Egyptian mint tea, of course.

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El Fishawy cafe in Khan el Khalili

I just love El Fishawy! It’s a mostly outdoor cafe, with mirrors lining the narrow walkway, making it seem like there are secret windows throughout. The floors are inlaid with tile mosaics, and vendors constantly pass through, carrying fresh bread on their way somewhere else, offering pashminas, necklaces or shoe polish. It’s a magical place!

When we finished eating we headed to a spice shop, lined floor to ceiling with all kinds of good smelling things. On the ceiling hangs a crocodile skin, and in one corner are snake and fox skins and tortise shells. There are boxes of dates and other dried fruit, open barrels of grains and herbs, bins of saffron, cumin and so much more.

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Spices at Khan El Khalili

After stocking up on spices (Heather) and hibiscus for tea (me, shockingly), we walked a short distance through the winding pedestrian streets to Mahmoud’s veritable costume palace! Three nice cool stone levels absolutely packed with belly dance goodies of all kinds… beaded bedlah, folkloric costumes, hip scarves, jewelry and more.

I loaded up on hip scarves to bring back for my students, and treated myself to a Nubian style folkloric dress, complete with tarha.

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Mahmoud's costume shop

After spending a good number of hours at Mahmoud’s, we stopped by a music and movie shop, where I found, among other goodies, a copy of Bahebbek Hassan (I love you, Hassan), a Naima Akef movie that I have been trying to find for years! No subtitles, but I’m thrilled to have it and be able to watch some of the scenes that I have only ever briefly glimpsed on YouTube before they disappeared.

During the day, Nibal kindly called Mme. Noussa and made an appointment to visit her at her workshop in Giza. After checking out a couple more shops in Khan el Khalili, we met our van driver and jumped into thick traffic to Giza!

Egyptian traffic is like nothing I’ve ever experienced… it’s kinda like a big game of chicken. Maybe like Boston but without the rage and with far fewer rules. Lanes and traffic signs are really just decoration. Honking and flashing lights is a legit form of communication. It’s kinda awesome–at least when you’re not in a rush, cause you really have no control!

Upon arriving on El Haram Street in Giza, we had to cross traffic. There are no crossealks…. you just go. And we did, grabbing on to each other to take up as much space as possible!

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With Mme. Noussa

Mme. Noussa is the absolute kindest woman. Her costumes are dreamy and she takes great care in helping us find a good fit. After trying on a few costumes I settled on two to take home. Yippeeeee!

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Having Nibal with us made all the difference. She knows how to navigate the labyrinthine streets of Khan el Khalili, and how best to speak with the vendors for the best results. It was a stress-free first day–just lots of fun and exploration with great guidance.

Next up, a day at the Saqqara and Giza pyramids, the the Makan Center and the Mazaher ensemble in the evening!

Cairo, here we come!

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10 hours to Istanbul, 2 hour layover, 2 hour flight to Cairo!!!!

Yes, I was just in Egypt for the first time this past March, but I couldn’t stay away!

Attending a festival was the perfect way to dip my toe in… a very curated experience filled with lots of dancing and plenty of sightseeing.

This time I’ll be staying with a friend who moved to Cairo in June, connecting with Nibal, our wonderful guide, am taking private lessons with a number of dancers. The first night we arrive, our friend’s mother in law will be making a meal for us!

For now, we are at Logan, early tapping our toes and waiting to board. Wheeeeee!!!

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Eager to board!!