March 21, 2008

Cairo - Pharaohs, Cemeteries and Souqs

My eyes are bleary, about to fold over upon themselves from the exhaustion of packing in a few thousand years of history in a day or two. Our pace has been more than steady and worth every step. We started yesterday with a must-see trip to the Egyptian Museum - a literal warehouse for most all things excavated from the Pyramids and Egypt in general. And you thought the Louvre was hard to get through in a day? This museum is a two story artifact-o-mat that has surprisingly little security around some major relics which include everything from the massive limestone Pharaoh's to 3000 year old sandals. It's amazing to just wander around the cavernous interior and let history speak through it's objects and inventions. One of my favorite pieces, and one of the more famous highlights in the museum, was the solid gold head of Tutankhamun shining in the center of a dark room alongside the rest of the luxury jewels found on his fine mummy self. As many times as I have seen it printed in books, in person, it really becomes a sight to behold. As my guidebook said though, after two or three hours you start to get "Pharaonic Phatigue". 
I am enjoying the Cairo part of my trip with my two good friends from New York, Chris and Kenny. It was Chris's brilliant idea to pick this amazing, flavorful destination and Kenny is invaluably the son of an Irish Auctioneer. He bargained us into a taxi whose driver turned out to be our official un-official tour guide. Mohamed took us to the Citadel and then to the Souq of Khan-il-Khalili - the largest bazaar in Cairo. Here we sat front and center on the main square participating in the massive ebb and flow of merchant city life. I have been busy trying to learn Arabic from the locals and I found my most useful phrase yet, La Shokran - No Thank You. Here is an off the beaten path traveling suggestion - pick a potentially obscure object and find a merchant who sells something close, but not quite, and tell them what you want. Within minutes they will have you hooked up with a cousin, brother or friend who promises to take you to the right place and, because you picked, let's say, a scarf in a particular size and patter (one that the merchant might be wearing but not selling), they will be guiding you through back alleys to local vendors and into parts of the markets not listed in the guidebooks. It's a great way to make new friends and experience the Souq outside the tourist arena.
On our way to the Souq, Mohamed showed us an area off the Citadel that was a sprawling cemetery that looked like a mini-city with one building larger than the next. Not surprising considering the Egyptians history with extravagant monuments honoring death and the afterlife. He told us of this strange occurrence whereby extremely poor citizens began squatting in the monuments of the cemetery centuries ago. Yes, they actually live there, but it's ot like a cemetery found in the US. The wealthy Cairenes would build an entire compund for the burial of their family members and have furnished rooms for contemplation and entertaining. The government has even since put in running water and a post office. So the have-nots of society got an unusually clever idea to break into these monuments and start a new life among the dead. Mohamed was kind enough, at my unsurprisingly relentless inquisition on the subject, to lead us for a closer look at this peculiar happening. We stopped by the home of a family and were able to help them with a little cash for a sneak peek into their life. 


ZaZa' said...

You look so much in your element! Too funny about the "Pharaonic Phatigue" just wait until you get to Italy! There it will be Madonna Fatigue; you've seen one Virgin Mary, you've seen them all. J/K some of the Byzantine art, Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico are pretty amazing! I am so jealous of you right now!!!! Keep having a great time - you can see that you are in the photos.
All my love,

Sarah said...

Hi Sweetie,

I am dripping with envy. It looks amazing over there; Egypt has jumped near to the top of my travel list.

Of course NYC seems empty without you, but it's good to know you are traveling with friends and will no doubt bring back stories to make even us New Yorkers blush.

Just so you have plenty of time to plan, Adam & I have made our reservations to go to Kigali in May.

I will be flying over alone, and will have 1 full day/night in Brussels. I arrive at 9am May 12th. If you are nearby you we must meet for a waffle.

Even better would be to join us in Kigali in May, I'll be there from May 13th-May 24th.

If we don't see you April 26th, it may be time for some familiar faces.

Keep checking in so I know your safe and can share your travels.
sar rux

jess said...

foder's and lonely planet watch watch your asses.....

be safe and continue to enjoy.



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