Cairo Day 4 – Khan el Khalili, Muezz El Din  & Tanoura 

Time for our first solo day out! We got a taxi to Bab Zuweila, hoping to find the tentmaker’s souk, then visit Khan el Khalili. 

Bab Zuweila is one of the three gates still standing from the walls of Cairo. I’m not sure of its exact date, but it’s around 1000 AD. “Bab” means door or gate. 

Even though we were in the area, we didn’t manage to find the tentmaker’s souk, but we did find a mixed market on a winding pedestrian-ish street through an archway right near Bab Zuweila. It was going in generally the right direction for Khan el Khalili, so we went in.

There really isn’t any such thing as a solely pedestrian street… there will be scooters, tiny trucks, possibly donkey carts, and hand-pulled carts no matter what, and everyone goes with it. You need to be assertive to get anywhere, but not rude. Sort of like the subway at rush hour, but without the angst and body contact. (In the metro there are women-only cars, so that’s another story, but on the street physical contact is avoided.) 

Went we came out through the archway at the end of the street, some college student-age girls were sketching the architecture. 

We were at a busy two-way road with a fence down the median, and I recognized Khan el Khalili, the old market, on the other side. Yay! We walked a ways till we found the tunnel under the road, and came up in front of Al Hussein mosque on the other side. 

We settled in at El Fishawy with tea, coffee, and temayya (Egyptian felafel) sandwiches. This cafe is set on a mirror-covered passageway near the sort of front entrance to Khan el Khalili. It’s one of my favorite places to sit! 

El Fishawy

Tea and coffee at El Fishawy

After our refreshing lunch, we found our way to Mahmoud’s shop… it’s practically a palace of belly dance heaven! Four floors of hip scarves, jewelry, folkloric costumes and bedlah, all granite and marble… and quiet!

The view from Mahmoud’s

Next, following Yasmina’s map, we found our way to Sharia (Street) Muezz El Din. Wow!! This street is lined with beautiful mosques from medieval times, and, of course, vendors including a silver area and a copper area. 

Sharia Muezz El Din

Sharia Muezz el Din

Our destination was the Egyptian Textile Museum. Just 10 le to enter, this museum is filled with ancient pieces of cloth, starting with textiles found in the tombs of Pharaohs! Mummy bandages with writing, finely pleated dresses, funerary cloths… The threads are so very fine! The written info next to the pieces was very helpful. Even after visiting the tombs and the museum, it’s still hard to understand that these are real bits of fabric that are so old–not statues made of stone.

Unfortunately, we had only about 45 minutes before the museum closed. I’m looking forward to returning and seeing more! I hear there is assuit in this museum, too.

Exiting onto Sharia Muezz el Din at sunset was magical. The street, with all its textures and patterns, glowed pink and orange! 

Bashtak Palace

Sabil Kuttab on Sharia Muezz el Din

Sharia Muezz el Din

It was time to recharge so we headed to Nagib Mafouz cafe. This spot is an heavenly spot of calm in the middle of the intensity of Khan el Khalili. Plus, they have really nice restrooms–a precious find!

I ordered sahleb, a hot milk drink with rosewater that is thickened with sahleb root powder (or corn starch or arrowroot, depending on your access), and topped with nuts, raisins, coconut… It’s so warming. It’s winter here in Egypt so it’s the perfect drink for this season. (50-65 degrees Fahrenheit feels warm compared to Maine, but people here are feeling chilly!)

At Nagib Mafouz cafe

After a nice and relaxing sit, we wound our way out of the market, across the street via the tunnel, and around the corner to Wikalet al Ghouri for the tanoura show.

This is one of the most incredible ongoing (three times a week?) events here in Cairo. Each performer is absolutely absorbing to watch individually, and the group as a whole moves as one. 

The building is from the 1500s, a former hostel for merchants. There are four floors surrounding a courtyard. Each floor is lined with doors, creating a really cool setting for this show. Musicians stand in the spaces between the pillars on the second floor, and the dancers and more musicians use the raised stage set up beneath. I wrote more about it last year, here… I’ve been so looking forward to attending again! 

Wikalet al Ghouri

Photos are allowed, but no video, and they actually police it, telling those filming to stop. It’s so nice to be in the moment rather than trying to document. 

Tanoura at Wikalet al Ghouri

After the show, we caught a taxi back home to Yasmina’s and to rest…. ahhhhh…. 

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Cairo Day 3 – Nile Maxim

After Dina’s show the night before (plus that pesky jetlag), I accidentally slept till 3 PM. Elise was up well before, enjoying the view of the pyramids from Yasmina’s terrace. 

View from the terrace


Since the day was gone, we looked towards the evening. Yasmina was able to make a reservation for us at the Nile Maxim boat for a dinner/dance show/Nile cruise. 

The dancer performing that evening was an Egyptian named Galilah. We didn’t know anything about her but we were happy to explore–that’s why we are here! 

Uber took us through the Friday evening traffic to Zamalek–specifically to Sharia (Street) Mohammed Abdel Wahab. 🙂 

Mohammed Abdel Wahab Street on the Nile Corniche in Zamalek

We ordered our dinner, the boat set sail, and the opening musicians began. The keyboard player and singer performed everything from “My Way” to “Hotel California”. 

Next, the live band set up. There was a keyboard player, singer, accordian player, and three percussionists. Before long the tanoura performer came out! 

He spun and spun, with the colorful fabric flying out, and then he lit up in bright LED additions to his vest, skirt, and hat. 

Tanoura in motion


Many of the boat attendees were Egyptian (it seemed, based on bits of Egyptian-specific language here and there) with a handful of Arab and western foreigners mixed in, including an Italian family next to us and more Americans at another nearby table. The boat wasn’t packed but it seemed like a respectable turnout for the show.

At last it was time for the belly dancer! She performed two sets with the live band, in very current Egyptian style–super fun! At the end of her second set, she headed into the audience–and she was a pro at engaging even the most reticent diners. 

Galila with Elise!

The view of Cairo from the middle of the Nile was of course a fun perspective. Zamalek’s pretty white buildings flowed by, as did Cairo Tower and all the bridges. 

Cairo Tower from the Nile Maxim


Eventually we returned to the quai and headed off the boat, ready to catch a taxi back home to Yasmina’s. Due to the recent and sudden devaluation of the pound (as ome condition of an IMF loan) gas prices (among other things) have gone up a LOT, so many taxi drivers don’t want to use the meter. In that case, it’s obviously best to negotiate a price before you get in the car. 

It took a while before we found a taxi at all, and then longer to find one that seemed right. We usually look for an older driver, as they are more likely to know where things are, and hopefully also not be flirty. Things worked out, fair price negotiated, and we had a speedy ride home on the ring road, then time to drink some tea and talk in front of Yasmina’s fireplace . It’s winter here, after all! 

Cairo Day 2 -Part 2 -Dina’s Show

The previous night, Yasmina asked us if we wanted to see Dina. Honestly, it hadn’t occurred to me as a possibility! This is one of many fabulous reasons to stay with Yasmina. 😀

After some research by Yasmina to confirm times and rates, we discovered that it was in fact entirely possible! She has just one weekly public show, Thursdays (well, Friday morning!) at the Samiramis hotel. Yasmina confirmed our reservation and it was a plan!!

After a day our with Nibal, seeing Coptic Cairo, Old Cairo, the Citadel, and the Egyptian Museum, we headed back to Yasmina’s for a 2-hr nap, which was not hard to achieve. 

We called an Uber about 10:30 pm (Thursday night traffic is like Friday night in the US–the start of the weekend) and headed into town. 

The nightclub in the hotel has four tiers for decent views of the stage from everywhere. You can choose different prices based on how close you want to sit. We chose the middle tier price (about $65), and we were fortunate to have a table at the front of an upper tier so we could see well. 

The show started at midnight with three singers performing Egyptian pop songs with recorded music. They had about an hour and a half.

Some appetizers and dips came out fairly early on, though it was too dark to get any photos. (Sorry, Nell!) There were little sausages, pate or foie gras, mini samosa-like pockets, smoked salmon rolls, and some pics of crab, shrimp, and fish. 

A group of four (two women and two men) came in after a bit and sat in the tier directly below us. One woman wore a black turtleneck, pants, and high boots. The other wore a casual someone loose tank top and sort of 90s trendy-again jeans. They both couldn’t get enough of dancing at their table and they were AWESOME. 

The curtains reopened around 2 AM, and there was an 11-piece band on the stage–2 tabla players, 1 giant riqq, 1 frame drum, 1 drum kit, 2 keyboards, 3 male back up singers, and 1 electric bass. 

The singer started offstage, and came out in an absolutely fabulous nude bodysuit with black lace over, sparkles, and spikes on the backs of the shoulders and arms–yes, spikes!–plus a long lace and sparkle train from the back of her waist. She was wonderful! 

At long last it was time for Dina’s show. The curtain opened on a 22+ piece band that enitrely filled the stage. Everyone in the audience had their phones out in anticipation of Dina’s entrance–and then she arrived!! 

Dina’s band at the Samiramis hotel

I was bouncing in my seat with excitement, as you might imagine. It’s really her–right there! Her entrance was everything I could have hoped for. Could not look away! 

Her first costume–cause I know you want to know–was a kelly/seafood green, quite simple and elegant with a  long skirt and graduated slit/swoop, with a heavier gold sequin piece that dangled from the center of the bra and attached to the center front of the skirt. 

After two songs, she exited, and a female singer came out in a gorgeous pink galabeya. Yes, it was time for Taht Il Shibbak! In person!!

Costume number two was an elegant velvet semi-dress, with a vivrant orange/yellow/red bra and teal/forest green skirt with a v detail at the back of the waist. 

Costume number three was a white/black/silver dress with sheer panels and, well, fascinating design. 

Costume number four–and final–and a feat of engineering, indeed, all white and sparkly! 

I’ll screenshot the costumes in the near future! Took some video to document the experience, but really tried to watch more than record…. it’s such a different experience to actually be in the moment. What an incredible night! 

After the show

After the show, we Ubered back to Yasmina’s, since the hotel has free wifi. I had wanted to get an unlocked phone and an Egyptian sim card for this trip so we could Uber more, use Google maps, and look stuff up while we were out, but I just didn’t get to it before leaving. Verizon has a 100MB/100 minutes/100 texts international plan for $40, so I opted for that, using wifi where possible, and the occasional data moment when needed. So far, so good, fingers crossed… (Which, by the way, is not a gesture used or known here, acording to an Egyptian friend.) 

We got home just before the 5 AM call to prayer. Due to excitement and jetlag, I didn’t fall asleep till 8 AM, and then slept till 3 PM. Yeesh. Not terrible to have a day to relax in Yasmina’s beautiful home, however!

Cairo Day 2, Part 1 – Cairo Sites

I slept solidly for almost 6 hours, and woke up before the first call to prayer. Still had nearly two hours before the alarm so tried to go back to sleep with no luck but I’m on vacation, darn it, so I WILL stay in bed. 😉

After a solid breakfast, Nibal picked us up and we headed in to the city. Crossing the Nile for the first time in daylight (too tired post-airport to notice was thrilling. So much water… and… it’s the Nile!! 

Coptic Cairo 

Our first stop was Coptic Cairo, in the south of the city. In the beautiful Hanging Church we saw incredible ivory/cedar/ebony inlay, icons of various saints and martyrs, stained glass…. 

Entrance to the Hanging Church

This Coptic Orthodox church dates to the 4th century AD, though much of the contents are more recent, roughly 12th century. It’s called such because it’s suspended in the top of a fortress tower. There are some clear panels installed in the floor so we could look down and see the areas below. 

Entrance to the Hanging Church

The Coptic calendar counts from 282 AD rather than from the birth of Christ. 282 is when the Romans stopped persecuting the Christians. 

Hanging Church

Next stop, just a couple of blocks away, was the Church of St George, an Armin Orthodox (Greek) church where St George (yes, the famed dragon slayer) hid from the soldiers. 

Church of St George

It’s ornate and colorful, with lots of gilding and beautiful daylight. 

Church of St George

Old Cairo

From there, we walked just a little further to Old Cairo. 

Here there is the church of Abu Serga (Saint Sergis), with original wood from the 4th century AD. Baby Jesus and family hid in the grotto of this site for three months. This year, it was open and we were able to enter! 

Leaving Old Cairo

Citadel

Next stop was the Citadel and the mosque of Mohammed Ali. The Citadel was built by Saladin in the 1170s in anticipation of the Crusaders, but they never attacked it as he stopped them further north. However, the fortress remained a power center for 700 years. 

Inside the Citadel

Also within the walls is the gorgeous mosque of Mohammed Ali. It took almost 20 years to complete in the first half of the 1800s, and Mohammed Ali dies before it was finished. His tomb is within. 

Mosque of Mohammed Ali

Mosque of Mohammed Ali

The views from the Citadel look west, and are absolutely stunning as it’s on a hill–of course, being a fortress!

View from the Citadel

Nibal arranged for the driver to order coffee so it was ready for us when we finished here. It’s like Turkish coffee, thick and strong and amazing. Energy for the Egyptian Museum next! 

Egyptian Museum 

Our final site of the day with Nibal was the Egyptian Museum, a striking purpose-built pink building on Tahrir Square dating from (?). 

I’m so glad that we went to the pyramid/necropolis sites prior to visiting the museum. Having seen in person where many of these ancient statues and tombs came from made viewing them in the museum so much more real and understandable. 

Nibal walked us through about 40 pieces, with history, context, and legend. One of my favorite pieces was the basalt (?) top to the smaller pyramid behind the Bent Pyramid that we had visited the day before. Yes, we also saw Tutankhamen’s famous fold mask, jewelry, and tombs contents. They’re really real!

Photos are currently allowed at the Egyptian Museum but you need a special ticket and we opted out if that. 

After this incredible day we returned to Yasmina’s for dinner and a nap before heading out to see Dina’s show later on….

Cairo Trip – Day 1 – Pyramids 

Yesterday’s 24+ hours of travel was long but it went smoothly. Flights were on time, luggage arrived quickly, and Nibal was there to meet us at the airport with a great driver to take us to Yasmina’s place in Giza. We were walking zombies and fell asleep after a cup of tea and a struggle with figuring out the time. 

Due to this confusion, set our alarms an hour earlier than necessary, for half an hour after the first call to prayer, which sounds out from multiple mosques simultaneously at 5 AM. But that meant a leisurely morning and a good breakfast thanks to Yasmina before Nibal picked us up at 8:30. The mist started to clear so we caught a glimpse from the terrace of the Great Pyramid emerging before heading out. (Squeeee!)

Morning in Giza

Saqqara 
Nibal took us first to Saqqara to visit the step pyramid and surrounding tombs and temples. I had visited last year but found that a retuen visit made everything seem more real and since it wasn’t all brand new to me I could retain a bit more! 

The step pyramid is the oldest of the pyramids, from roughly 2400 BC. It’s 66 meters high and currently being restored. 

Saqqara


The surrounding tombs at ground level have beautifully detailed relief work, and some even with color, depicting motion and life–including a panel of dancers!


Titi’s tomb is a short descent into the ground via a small shaft. Inside the high ceiling is entirely covered in relief stars, and the walls in hieroglyphics detailing his good works and other such things related to his life and place in the afterlife. There was a large class of 10-year-olds visiting from a local French school so I had fun eavesdropping on the kids and teachers… It was really great to see so many more tourists present than last year! 

Dashur

After 3 or 4 hours exploring the grounds at Saqqara, we headed for Dashur to see the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. 

The Red Pyramid is made of red granite, hence the name. We decided to go inside, which I had previously avoided doing to my claustrophobic fears. To enter, you climb steps 35 meters up the side of the pyramid, then enter a 3.5-foot-high shaft and decent 65 meters, so you end up quite far underground. 

Ready to climb down into the Red Pyramid!


I was afraid the air would be hard to breath and I’d be stuck in a tiny space with no way out but the way I got it. It was quite warm and a bit stuffy inside but nowhere near what I had feared. 
Turns out, there is an incredible echo chamber inside! It’s maybe 15′ wide and 25 long (this may be way off, and that’s one of 3 chambers inside) but really, really high with stepped sides. Any sound you emit just lingers in the air… dreamy!!

Inside the Red Pyramid at Dashur


Climbing back up was way more taxing than climbing down–shockingly enough. 😉 The stiff breeze at the top was most welcome! 

The Bent Pyramid site has been newly opened to the public. Previously you could just view it from afar but now you can walk around its base–and see another (less well built and hence crumbling) one on the far side. The Bent Pyramid started at 54 degrees but the realized partway through construction that it would be too heavy at that height so it was changed to 43 degrees, which is the ideal angle at which successive pyramids were built, if I remember right. 

At the Bent Pyramid at Dashur


The walk in the desert was refreshing, however wobbly our legs from the Red Pyramid climb…. Sun and wind and incredibly old human inventions. 

Giza

Our last site of the day was the famous pyramids on the Giza Plateau. With a quick stop at Felfela for some pita sandwiches, we were refuled and ready to try to wrap our minds around more stuff! The sun was starting to set, with a large red sun peeking put from the clouds. 

There was 180 years between the Bent Pyramid and the Great Pyramid at Giza. The Great Pyramid is 146 meters high and took roughly 20 years to complete. The stones are not cemented; they are held together by their weight and engineering. It’s the last remaining one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

The Great Pyramid at Giza

The smaller of the big three at Giza is about 60 meters high, just a bit smaller than the step pyramid at Saqqara. The six smaller ones were for queens. 

After a drive to the panorma above were we can see 6 of the 9 pyramids at this site, we went back downhill to the Sphinx juuuust before the monument closed up for the night. The Sphinx is 22 meters high and carved from a single piece of stone! 

Check our the Sphinx’s tail detail!


Back home to Yasmina’s for a delicious dinner, typing of this blog, and now sleep. Tomorrow out plans are to visit the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel, and Old Cairo with Nibal. Then home to gather ourselves and spiff up before heading out to see Dina.