Thursday: Thanks to the people who complained at my abroad school before me, we now have a Thanksgiving break. I immediately knew where I wanted to go--Cairo. Thursday Laura and I casually got ready for our 1:30 flight with no hassles or delays. It wasn't until the extra intense security at the Athens airport for the first time ever that it sunk in we were going to Cairo. The flight was only two hours, but within those two hours we got a decent airplane meal and made friends with a guy from Cairo who lives in Athens for business. The flight coming in was wonderful. We could see a major city literally on the edge of a never ending desert. The city itself looked like it was covered in dust--welcome to Cairo. We could even see the Nile and its never ending branches. We smoothly landed in the new Cairo airport, which apparently opened in 2007. In order to enter Egypt you must by a 15 USD visa at one of the banks before you go through customs. This all went well, and we even got a marriage proposal from the banker--welcome to Cairo. Our only setback came when we had to wait for our luggage to come on the conveyor belt for almost an hour, but luckily it did eventually arrive. Thanks to our hostel (The Australian Hostel), we had our free airport driver waiting for us with a sign with our name on it. The driver and the drive was crazy. We based beautiful mosque upon mosque, listened to Egyptian pop music, made friends with the driver, and experienced first hand the craziest driving ever. We arrived at our hostel around 5pm which is located in the heart of Cairo. At the hostel we experienced its infamous elevator which doesn't have a door, so when you go up past non-walls you could basically plummet down--welcome to Cairo. However, the hostel is really quite nice and the staff is very helpful. Laura and I have a cute double room that is very spacious (not bad for 10 dollars a night). At the hostel we met up with three other CYA students (Kellyn, Aimielisa, and McKenzie). After getting settled, Laura and I wandered around the city to get our first taste of Cairo. We wondered the packed streets (apparently 22 million people live in Cairo, wow), and looked at all the stores and shops, along with getting a few cat calls, but oh well. We as tourists, honestly stick out like sore thumbs. If you aren't from Egypt, its nearly impossible to look like you are. After feeling out the streets, we went back to the hostel to meet up with the other girls before heading out to dinner. We ended up eating at a place that sold a sort of burger like patty in a fried pita (was told the name in Arabic but I don't remember the exact name). It is very common in Cairo for restaurants to specialize in one thing and only sell that one thing. The burger/pita was really good, but nonetheless we were excited for sweets. I had heard from people who had visited before that The ABD bakery is amazing, and that GAD has amazing Egyptian pancakes...I was on a mission. We found the bakery with ease, but it took us a bit of time to find the pancake place, but was it worth it. Walking to streets of Cairo is quite an event. You can take you 10 minutes to walk one block, because there are so many people. I got an Egyptian pancake with only sugar (cost me 3 egyptian pounds, which is like .80 US dollars), and it was huge and DELICIOUS. soooo good. incredible. By the time we finished our pancakes it was midnight, so we headed back to the hostel to get sleep since we had a 7:40 wake up call for a full day trip to the PYRAMIDS!!!!!
Friday/Pyramid Day: What a wonderful, long, memorable, incredible day. I got up at the early hour of 7:40 and got ready for what was to be a big day. The breakfast at the hostel was what I was craving--bread, strawberry jelly, cheese, and a hard boiled egg. Yay free breakfast. Then at about 8:30 we met up with our driver for the day. He was a really nice man who knew so much about the pyramids, Cairo, etc. On the way to our first stop, the Giza pyramids, we stopped for a photo-op at the widest part of the Nile River. crazy. As we approached Giza, I nearly died when I first saw the Great Pyramids, they really are the most incredible things. We then as a group decided that we wanted do see Giza by camel. Greatest decision ever. Within half an hour we were all on camel back. This was the first time I have ever ridden a camel. I know my dad is afraid of them, and now I can understand why. They are kinda grumpy, show teeth, and spit, oh dear. Our tour started with hiking up the hills of the desert towards the pyramids. At one of the highest peaks we stopped for a photo shoot, however, when we stopped my camel (who I named Larry because I thought he kinda looked like Larry David), he threw a crazy camel fit to the point where they took him away. So, for the rest of the trip I had to ride the tour guide's horse while he trekked through the sand. I can't even begin to tell you how picturesque it was. There were men dressed in traditional garb galloping on camels on the desert hills--looked like it was straight out of a movie. We then made it to the 2nd tallest pyramid, where we went inside. In order to get inside you have to crawl down a tunnel (Being John Malcovich stye), down a wooden plank with little metal divots so you don't fall all the way down. You then have to crawl up a wooden plank to get to the main tomb area. The tomb itself was pretty cool, but the walls over the years have become blank unfortunately. After a thorough investigation of the tomb, we climbed back out. Our next adventure was to climb the pyramid. Now, you aren't supposed to climb them, but if you give the tourism police a little bribe, you can basically do whatever you want. A part of me was sad because I felt that as long as there are people to bribe and who take them, the pyramids will not be preserved like they should be. However, I'm not gonna lie that climbing the pyramids is an incredible experience. We climbed up a bit, and then had a bit of a photo shoot. Afterwards, some money was slipped into the hand of the police and we were on our way to the major tombs and the sphinx. I think the sphinx is one of the coolest things ever, and to actually see it in person was just surreal. Seeing the Great Pyramids is just incredible. We then met up with our driver again at about 2:20 , a famous perfumery. Being a group of five girls it took us about an hour or so to sample all the wonderful oils. It was definitely a unique perfume shopping experience. The perfume bottles themselves look like something out of Aladdin. We then hopped back in the van and headed to the oldest pyramid which is the oldest stone building made by man in Saqqara. When we arrived, we first went to another tomb which this time had incredible wall hieroglyphics and paintings. We then had to rush over to the step pyramids, however, because the sun was starting to set and the site was about to shut down. We made it just in time and got to experience our final, amazing pyramid. We then hoped back in the van and headed back to our hostel. By this time we were starving, so Laura and I decided to get traditional Egyptian food called "ko-shary. It has rice, noodles, a tomatoey sauce, crunchy won-ton like pieces aka. something that is extremely hard to describe but super tasty. After an incredibly filling meal we went back to the hostel to relax. After everyone was full and clean we watched Almost Famous in the hostel lobby with some of the other guests. We met a guy from Canada named Ben, and a guy from New Haven, Connecticut. Small world. Was a great ending after an incredible day.
Saturday: We woke up around 9:30 to get ready and eat breakfast. However, our hostel had run out of breakfast food, so they rand down and got us some sort of traditional Egyptian breakfast that involved a pita with beans inside. Was actually pretty tasty. Our first stop was Coptic Cairo. We decided to take the metro because it cost 1 EP which is .18 US cents. wow. We first went to the Hanging Church, where it is believed to be the place where the Virgin Mary hid. As we explored the area, we visited a synagogue (where extra security was in place, even a metal detector to get through), a beautiful Greek orthodox Church, and another church (where there was holy well due to the fact it is believed Jesus went into hiding there). Our final stop in Coptic Cairo was one of the oldest mosques. In order to enter we obviously had to cover our hair, but they also gave us full length robes to cover every inch of our body. The mosque was not touristy and quite peaceful, was a wonderful place to relax and reflect. Then I had my first Cairo taxi experience. What you do is flag down one of the riggity old taxis because they don't have meters, then you arrange a flat price before getting in the car. For a good distance you should pay 15 EP which is 2.75 USD, once again not bad. Along the way we took a short cut from the traffic down a small street. We saw tons of sheep skins from the millions of sheep sacrificed the day before for a Muslim holiday. It doesn't get more traditional than that. We also saw tons of children playing with toy guns running around barefoot, quite a sight. We took the taxi to the Khan El-Khahlily market, it was so much fun and incredible. I have started to really like bargaining and working on making deals, its kind of like a sport. It is especially a great place to do some Christmas shopping. After exploring the windy shopping streets for two hours, we took a taxi back to the hostel to relax for about an hour before going on our Nile dinner cruise. The dinner cruise was nice, but not quite to par for the price we had to pay for it. We did have some traditional Egyptian music and belly dancing as entertainment, but the best part by far was sitting on top of the boat watching the city lights pass us by (plus its pretty sweet to say you took a boat along the Nile River, not bad at all). The cruise ended around 10ish, so we then went back to the hotel to relax before our last day in Cairo.
Sunday: The other CYA students who met us in Cairo had their flight back to Athens, so for our final day it was just Laura and I. We woke up around 9 and headed towards to overwhelming Cairo Museum. The Cairo Museum has an incredible (extremely large) collection of Egyptian antiques, however, since it is in Cairo it is unlike any museum I have ever been too. The lighting is quite bad, and probably only 1/3 of the items are labeled (and if they are labeled, they are labeled on memo cards of loose leaf paper, not kidding). The museum is also not really "organized," so it can be a bit chaotic. Nonetheless, the collections is incredible. My favorites were by far the mummies (which were an extra 60 egyptian pounds, plus the 30 egyptian pound entrance fee). You could still see the person's hair and teeth. It is crazy how preserved the bodies are. My close second favorite were the huge Egyptian statues, especially the ones of the heretic ruler Akenaton. Laura and I are proud to say we saw the ENTIRE museum, and it took us a grand total of FOUR hours. Yes, a huge museum. We then decided to explore the streets of Cairo. We found some shops ideal for Christmas shopping, and went to the famous El ABD bakery (which was super pact and quite the experience in itself). For our final night we decided to get all of our favorite foods from the weekend (koshary, egyptian pancakes, and goods from El ABD), and feast while watching Love Actually and the Prince of Egypt. The perfect ending to a incredible trip.
Cairo at a glance:
-they don't have/use toilet paper (sometimes) so you should always bring a role with you
-everyone seems to wear sandals
-egyptian food is tasty
-don't drink the water
-if you are a tourist, people in the streets with tell you "welcome," have been told more times than I can count (also everyone seems to love Americans (or wherever they think those who speak English are from), if they know you are from America they will say "howdy"
-people are quite helpful
-at night the city lights up and the streets are flooded with people (have never seen so many people in my life, can take 10 minutes to walk one block)
-the Nile is quite polluted unfortunately
-the pyramids are breathtaking/incredible/a must see
-you must ride a camel
-experience the sunset, it is blood red
but overall, I love being in Cairo
**home in 2 weeks and two days!!! :)
I miss you all so much