Out to Al Fayoum by minibus
Hotel – Walk around town
Today we are finally doing the Egyptian Museum. It is one of the must sees of Cairo and we have been putting it off. Some people say to visit it after the sights in Egypt, but we are choosing to do it before hand. Hopefully we will then know a bit more about what we are seeing.
Again the tickets are expensive at 60 pounds each and then you have to pay another 100 pounds each to see the mummies. As we don’t feel that is worth it, we are skipping that part. It still leaves enough though, so we are trying to get an early start. Not as easy as it sounds, as there are so many people stopping us along the way for a chat. All in good fun and we make it there by about 11.00… Considering it is only two streets away from the hostel, we think we made it in good time!
The museum does not allow cameras in, so no photo’s. Too bad, as there are some beautiful items on display. The museum is (sort of) set up chronologically so we move from the Old Kingdom all the way to Roman times. Great statues and hieroglyphs downstairs, but a lot are missing any information. The other problem is that a lot of objects have been moved for international exhibitions or different sections of the museum, and the tags were not moved with them. This makes for some interesting reading occasionally, when you are reading a detailed description of a stella, and go to look at the mentioned engravings to find it is a different piece all together.
Upstairs are painted sarcophagi with the occasional mummy including mummified pets, funerary offerings and pottery. There are brilliant displays of dioramas that were found in later tombs (instead of carving it all, they started making models), these depict all forms of daily life from brewing beer (as you can’t do without in the afterlife), making bread, looking after the flocks and your soldiers to protect everything. Then of course the famous Tutankhamen stuff. It is stunning especially the golden jewellery. There is another section that is from an excavation near Alexandria, there is also some fine jewellery, and funerary wrappings including all the amulets and bracelets. Both of which are fascinating.
The main problem for us with the Museum is that it is just too big, and we did not want to skip much. Take our time, read up on what we are looking at, and hopefully absorb the information presented. By 17.00 our feet are hurting, and we have seen most of the museum. It is worth a visit, but because so much is missing it’s labels, it is not as informative as hoped. Also, some rooms of the museum have packing cases all in between the exhibits, and it is hard to appreciate statues that are covered in plastic..
We meet Ali for a coffee, as it is our last night in Cairo, he treats us to a great meal again. He wanted to take us out for beers, but we had to decline. Too tired. We will catch up with him when we make it back to Cairo. Ali is a great guy, but Anna is a bit sick of the sexual innuendos that he constantly makes. We know there is nothing to them, but it does get a bit frustrating. Also the fact that we cannot repay his kindness. He is one person we are very happy to have met in Cairo, and if we do not get the chance to catch up again, hope that all goes well with him, and he finally finds a good girlfriend!
Leaving Cairo! We are going to Al Fayoum, a smaller town not that far away. It is surrounded by the Al Fayoum oasis, an extremely fertile basin away from the Nile. The oasis is massive stretching about 70km by 60km. People seem surprised that we want to visit this town, as most tourists seem to go straight to Luxor, but we persevere and get instructions on how to get there.
From Tahrir square we take the metro past Giza to the last stop on the line. There we need to find a bus the Al Fayoum. The metro turned out to be really easy, as it is quiet. Exiting the metro station we walk straight into a bus stop. “Where are you going?” come at us from all directions, but that seems to be the limit of their English. (We did think it English would be less spoken outside of Cairo, but it has disappeared, and we have not even left the city limits yet) We understand by the hand signals that we are to walk and go under the overpass to a different bus station. Not a problem and we start walking. The walk turns out to be a lot longer than expected, however we are sure we are on the right path, as every time someone asks if they can help, they give us the same directions. On our eventual arrival we are ushered into a minibus. Our luggage is placed on a seat next to us, so we guess we will be paying for three seats.. The bus is full within minutes and we are off!
We noticed the pyramids on our right as we were on the (above ground) metro, and now we go past them again. They are now on our left, meaning we are heading back into town. Confused we are wondering if maybe Cairo has a suburb called Al Fayoum and we will end up there. As it turns out, we have to get on a main road, which involves driving all around the pyramids. (By the way, there is just as much construction on this side of the Great Wonders as there is on the central Cairo side. It completely covers the ground right up to the base of the platau on three sides.)
The main road is in good condition and pretty quickly we leave Cairo behind and are going through the desert. Flat and dusty on both sides of the road. This is an interesting landscape after the built up city, and we are still wondering about the piles of sand that create little hillocks all along one side of the road for a few kilometres. Power lines stretch off into the distance in almost all directions, and every now and then we pass a lot of parked traffic, that all seems to be in line waiting for the fuel stations.
Eventually we are in the oasis. Green fields and palm trees.
On arriving in Al Fayoum the bus makes a few stops to let people off, but we are signalled to stay seated. Al Fayoum is not the small town we were hoping for. It looks like a Cairo suburb. The palm trees and fields have disappeared and now it just just then same traffic, smells and honking horns again.
The bus stops and the driver talks to us in Arabic.. that doesn’t get him anywhere off course. As he must be asking where we want to go, we do the signals for sleeping and hotel. He then jumps out and pulls over a taxi. Apparently they want to takes us to “Fundu”.(?) We have no idea what or where that is. Another bus stop? A hotel? But how expensive is it then? We decide to decline this offer, and just walk and find a hotel. Everybody seems a bit worried about us. On checking the lonely planet book afterwards, we find out that Fundu means Hotel in Arabic. We probably should have taken the taxi, as the first hotel we find down town is closed, and the second is 200 pounds a night.. Thankfully this hotel give us directions to a cheaper option, however it is a taxi ride away. They also gave us the price of the taxi, luckily. The first taxi wanted to charge us 10 pounds to get there, and when we refused, started talking to the people around him, trying to get them to say it was a fair price. They just shook their heads and laughed. The second taxi quoted 3 pounds. This is what we were expecting, so we jumped in. This was good. We would never have found the place by ourselves, especially carting our luggage around. Pocketing the note with the name and directions the first hotel had given us, we went to have a look (this also came in handy a few times, as we still don’t know the name…). The hotel looks ok, and we decided to check in for two nights to start.
The walk around town is not very interesting. As said, it is noisy and busy and not unlike Cairo. With no major sight in town, we have some lunch and tea. The people are really friendly though, and again we are asked to pose for photo’s with them and to snap pictures of them at their stalls. Kids following us on their bikes and girls giggling and asking for our names. A bit awkward sometimes, but we do feel welcome here.
A “stroll” along the “canals”.. or trying to not get run over while walking past the waterways that also seem to be used as garbage dumps, then a quick dinner.
Finally we make our way to the VIP cafe (plastic chairs on the side walk) for a coffee and a sheesha. The people here are again very friendly and happy to have us. They want to give a some typical Egyptian drinks for free! Hibiscus juice. There was a small mix up with the language though. We thought there was milk in it, so Anna declined. This was not acceptable, and she had to have a fresh mango juice instead. Turns out that they were both pure juice, and we don’t know where the milk came into it, and were delicious!
Back at the hotel, we as usual start to notice the things we are supposed to look for before checking in. The mattress is thin and some of the slats are missing. This makes for an interesting sleep. The walls are paper thin, and every cat yowl and car horn is clearly audible, even in this “quiet” back street. There is hot water, but no shower head. At least the toilet works, and the people are friendly.