Cairo, Egypt Sunday, February 5, l995
I slept well and often. Got up about six times but slept like a baby in between. Susan is sick. No, really.
At 9 o'clock I called Dr. Swelim to arrange our tour or whatever. He's an expert on pyramids and seemed reluctant to do any Egypt 101 with us. Our request for more time in the Egyptian Museum didn't sit well with him. He felt that A&K knew best about how much time we should spend there and that any more would be overload. He offered us two hours of his time, just talking, for the princely sum of $150. We decided to pass which he understood. He suggested two books for us: Atlas of Ancient Egypt and The Rape of the Nile by Brian Fagin. We then called Abercrombie & Kent to see if they could arrange a half day tour of Coptic Cairo for tomorrow. No problem. They'll get back to us.
We headed downstairs where I hit the bank for some Egyptian pounds at LE 3.39/$1. A contingent of Arab businessmen were checking in dressed in galabias, turbans and briefcases. Cool!
We had breakfast by the window at Night and Day and headed for the Egyptian Museum. Susan was disappointed to find it so near so we walk up Talat Harb Streetto Talat Harb Square (actually a circle with a statue in the middle) then continue up Kasr el Nil. Half the shops seem to be tour or travel offices and the rest sell shoes. The streets are teeming with people and honking cars. The little black and white taxis (which we hear number 35,000) honk for right of way as well as to get the attention of American tourists to see if they want a ride. Quite a change from Rome where you can never find a cab.
A side street takes us past the Cairo stock exchange building and soldiers in sentry boxes with bayonets on their guns (and very sharp they look, too). If you walk on the sidewalk you have to ease by the bayonets.
We reverse direction and find ourselves back at Talat Harb Square and are attracted to Groppi with its large windows and red awnings. Inside is a mostly empty space with some pastries and confections displayed around the perimeter. Next door is the Groppi coffee house, apparently a landmark of some kind which has obviously seen better days. It's very spare but we order coffee. There's an extensive exchange with the waiter which obviously does not work out well because we end up with instant coffee for LE 4.5.
Then it's on to the Egyptian Museum. Susan is struggling so we sit in the front garden for a while in front of the sandstone building. Sphinxes and statues are sprinkled about. We decide on a short visit and buy two tickets for LE 10 apiece. Inside we stop at the gift shop for postcards and a street map of Cairo.
The main space is a huge stepped down atrium that is reminiscent of the Musee D'Orsay. Sarcophagi, statues, mummified animals, stelli...there's stuff everywhere. But if it's going to be a short visit it's King Tut for us. We head upstairs past about 10 people dressed in blue jumpsuits swabbing the floor. The motherlode is right at the top of the stairs and it is beyond imagining, not only in its beauty but in its quantity. All this is the single tomb of a minor king who died when he was 18. The thought of what has disappeared from other tombs numbs the mind.
We see six foot tall wooden painted statues of the king covered with gold, alabaster sculptures, a gold and precious gem throne, gold lion beds, exquisite jewelry, the famous gold and lapis death mask from the show at the Metropolitan Museum, a solid gold coffin that along with the Xi'an warriors ranks as one of the most wondrous things I've ever seen. I'm sure we'll spend more time on this latter after we visit with our Egyptologist from A&K. For now, Susan needs her bed so we head back to the hotel, grab lunch at you know where and settle in for naps.
Several hours later we get a call from Khaled. We are confirmed with Mona for a four hour tour tomorrow morning for $45 each. Another call notifies us that another couple on the A&K tour has just arrived from Saudi Arabia and would like to join us tomorrow. Sounds good. It also lowers our price to $35 apiece.
Finding a spot for dinner proves a little difficult. Most of the so-called good restaurants are in hotels, which we don't want. We also want authentic Egyptian cuisine which limits us even more. We eventually settle on El Mashrabi, 4 Ahmed Nessim Street in Giza.
We arrange with the bellhop for a taxi for LE 15. The ride is short, just the other side of the river across Roda Island but totally exhilarating. Neon Arabic signs, active streets, mosques, a new part of town. This town is very lively and goes late into the night, especially during Ramadan when they can't eat till sundown. The result seems to be an all night party except it seems at El Mashrabi. The driver asks directions twice, once at a candy stand and then from armed soldiers who seem to be everywhere. The restaurant, on a side street behind the Saudi Embassy is lovely, muted, woody and totally empty. "Reservation?" asks the maitre d'.
Susan starts with something called Calf Trotter's Soup - don't ask. Suffice it to say she took one taste and transferred the bowl to me. I did the best I could so that I wouldn't undermine the good will that now exists between the Egyptian people and my people. She then orders lentil soup followed by stuffed pigeons. I had lamb parts and fatta. The water was the ubiquitous Baraka (in some kind of association with Vitelle but without its wicker holder). No Stella because there is no alcohol at El Mashrabi. For dessert I have another Om-Aly which is not as good as last night's but still good. Susan has a bad baklava and we both have mint tea in glasses (shades of Morocco). The tab is LE 94 with tip and I leave another LE 2. The maitre d' gets us a cab which I negotiate down to LE 15 back to the hotel. A gun toting guard and I exchange smiles, waves and a thumbs up as we head back to the Semiramis. Although we were on a main street in Giza we caught nary a glimpse of the pyramids.
The Arabic words I'm working on are: Fatoura-bill, which is the only one I've used so far; Bakim-how much; Shoukran-thank you; Aywa-yes; Laa-no; Maya-water.