To late for Citadel
Spice market closed
Saw a lot, but don’t know what..
Up, coffee, and off to Immigration. We are becoming regulars at Tahrir Sq. although this time there was nothing different. It had been a quiet night, and as someone has said to us, most of the time it is not a problem. People march on the square to get the football league re-instated (but after the latest Port Said fiasco, this is unlikely), protests against the reforms in place, or just delinquents that have nothing better to do. Most of this is fine, except for the last, as these are the people that can cause problems.
With a friendly wave to the people at the door, we dropped off our camera and headed in. The first part was easy, we went back to the same window. Here our documentation was waiting for us. We passed over our passports, and were asked to come back in two hours. That was a quick visit, but put a bit of a dampener on the rest of the day, as we had planned to do Sal Al Din’s citadel, and walk back through Islamic Cairo. Heading out we picked up our stuff. The person here has been on duty every time we have been through. He was laughing when we told him we had to come back again!
Outside we had to decide on what to do. It was not long enough to go explore the far flung corners of the city, but we have been hanging around the centre long enough to be a bit over it. High end shopping streets, stalls along the footpaths and coffee shops. Cars everywhere and too much horn honking. We wandered past one of the burnt out buildings that proudly proclaimed it was the Women’s Council (We found out later that it was also used extensively by Mubarack and his “Cronies”). On the other side of the building is the Nile.
Walking along, there is a four lane road and wide footpath. Due to the closure of the square to traffic, it was not too bad, but there was still a lot. The fumes coiled up and around joining the overall haze of the city. Looking over the handrail is the Nile. Flowing quietly down its cement banks. On the other side are old barges and river boats moored permanently and converted into restaurants and cafes. Neon lights all over them, but unlit during the day. Past this there are signs of greenery and an Obelisk pointing up to the yellow sky. We make our way down river to a bridge and cross over to the island.
Walking back, we came across the park, there are a few statues here, and more green grass than elsewhere in the city, but they charged an entrance fee to be able to sit under a tree. Skipping that we just walked along until we were at the fence by the Obelisk. This was Anna’s first Ancient Egyptian monument. Going back towards the next bridge, we came to a statue of King Farouk (The last Egyptian king, and descendent of Mohammed Ali, that lost power when the English were kicked out in the 1950’s) Here we met a nice guy that told us a bit about the history of the statue, whilst walking us back to his perfume shop. This threw us a bit, but we extracted ourselves after one cup of tea. Even though we had no intent on buying anything, know your prices. He was offering the perfume “Dirt cheap” at only L.E.20 much cheaper than in down town (where it is offered for L.E.5!)
Back at Immigration, we found the new window we were supposed to be at. Lots of other people had found it as well. With the organisation of the process until now, we were shocked at the complete chaos that we beheld. There was a mob of people pushing and shouting to get to the window. No real organisation, and as we joined in, we soon found ourselves in the press of people. If you have ever been in the mosh pit of a popular band, you would know the feeling. For the oldies out there, there was no room to move, you are being crushed up against the person in front of you by the person behind, and you cannot even draw a proper breath as your diaphragm has no room to expand. We were in the press for about half an hour, by this stage, we were about 3/4 of the way to the window. The person on the other side would have new passports delivered to them, and then would call out the name. We got excited occasionally when they called out Amerieka, thinking it was Anna, but they couldn’t hear us asking for it.
As we got closer we found out that she was calling out for Americans. This made it more confusing, as sometimes it was called out by name, and others by nationality. Still, my passport came up at some stage (after I had cracked a rib or two, trying to breath). Signing my name on the paperwork to get the passport back, I spent the next five minutes struggling to get back out of the que. Anna was still stuck in there. An indeterminate time later, the crowd started thinning, and eventually Anna was one of the last people to get hers. Considering we had given our passports at the same time, it was a bit annoying. All up she had been in the press for an hour and a half. Just no music…
On leaving the building we said goodbye to the guy at the front. He was happy to see we had gotten our extension, and wished us well for the rest of the trip. Now we are free do do what we want for the last few hours of the day.
We started walking to Islamic Cairo. There is the grand bazaar, that sells mainly Chinese imports nowadays (so we have been told) and plenty of Mosques and old buildings. Following the pathetic maps in the Lonely Planet (we are not that happy with this one from 2008 and it is very confusing. Some of the information is downright inaccurate) we came to the start of this part of Cairo. Wandering around looking at Minarets and beautifully carved buildings, we ran into an older gentleman that wanted to show us around.
Abdil Sahir. Not too sure how to take it, and with deep suspicion at fist, we walked with him for a little way. Then it was full on tour guide mode, and fast walking between being pushed into the “Best place for photos” This is all a blur, as he showed us so much in a short time. From the main gates of the old city, through to the Sufi Mosque (With a fantastic red bulbed minaret) Old palaces from the time of the Sultans and all the streets in between. We passed through the spice market. Luckily for us it was Sunday, and the spice market is closed. Otherwise there would be too many people here. Unluckily, the spice market was closed, and there was nothing to see….
The old Palaces are brilliant, but starting to crumble with no renovations. They are all deserted now, and no one is allowed to live in them. On the outside the stone work is so detailed and well made. The balconies for the women are all made out of sandalwood, and stick out overlooking the street. The fine work here is still copied to this day with the interlocking knobs to create a latticework that they could look through and see life below them, but block anyone from looking up and seeing them.
The palaces were set up to accommodate the 200 wives (Harem), 300 children the Sultan and his court. It is just a shame that it is not being used any more, even if they converted it into a museum of the time period it would be good. Elsewhere the destruction of the 1995 earthquake is still visible. Half houses and piles of rubble stand out amongst the four and five story buildings. It has not even been cleared away. Cairo, a city of 30 million has a lot of ruins and abandoned buildings. We don’t know if there is not enough workforce to clean it up (not likely), no money (what about people wanting to build new houses here) or no motivation (most likely, as they would have to find new places to dump their garbage)
At the end of the tour, we came to a small hole in the wall. This is where Abil Sahir used to do inlay work, and still keeps a few pieces. It was his old family business. His father and grandfather made inlay boxes, mirror frames and anything else they could think of. Here we were shown a few samples of the work done by different generations. Unfortunately his sons have not followed in his footsteps, and pursued different careers.
He has only stopped doing it, as his eyesight is not good enough any more. Not surprisingly, everything was for sale, and even though there were only a few pieces from his grandfather, they were for sale as well. We are sure that if we had bought all of them, that they would have been replaced by new pieces that his grandfather had made as well!!
By now it was getting late, and we had to start heading back to down town, if we wanted to get there at any reasonable time. Being after dark, we were a bit worried, but as we were avoiding the trouble spots, there was no problem. Cairo at night is the same as during the day with one exception. More shops are open! People here work in two or three jobs. One during the day and another at night. There also seems to be different sections of the city specialising in different things. We passed through the electrical section earlier, and walking back we walked down streets that sold nothing but lamps! It made it as bright as day, and we could check out the latest fashions in indoor illumination.