|Your Hand in My Hand
It wasn't the best sleep I ever had, and I do recall having this horrific visit to the toilet, but I woke up around 6am, rolling through the town of Beni Suef, feeling reasonably refreshed.
Interestingly, my fitbit, which attempts to quantify it, registered a sleep score of 62. That's not bad considering I usually only average a 75. Whilst last Sunday's journey South I slumped to as low as 40.
Soon the sun was rising in the East as we continued to roll our way North through lush agricultural land close to the river Nile. We were still a hundred miles away from Cairo.
Breakfast arrived, which was the same bread overload we had before. We tucked into a bread roll filled with cream cheese.
The waking countryside continued to roll past our window. In one green field, where someone and his donkey was already up, harvesting, we also saw this peculiar building made of mud. It looked like a large sand castle. I think it was some kind of water tower or grain store?
After breakfast was cleared away by the porter we packed our bags ready to get off at Giza.
Despite being ready and waiting to go, when we stopped at the first station we stayed in our cabin. We didn't see a sign for Giza, there was no announcement, and we didn't hear anyone else move. Anthony and Teresa, in the next cabin were also staying put. It didn't look like Giza to me.
We then got a frantic porter scurrying down the carriage to usher us off the train before it moved on to Cairo central. "Shit, we need to get off, now!" We grabbed our bags and ran down the corridor. We weren't laughing at the time but safely on the platform we could see the funny side.
Hany did another head count. Now he had a full compliment of Sahara Sahara group members we left the platform and headed out of the train station to our Santa Claus minibus waiting for us.
We returned to the Pharaoh Hotel where it all began less than a week ago. Intrepid had kindly arranged for three day rooms for us all to leave our luggage and have a shower to freshen up.
Marilyn was almost immediately whisked off to the airport for a flight to Amman, Jordan where she was to continue with another Intrepid tour. How fabulous.
Mo and Kari were also straight back out on a guided tour to Saqqara, the location of some older pyamids. The largest one was the stepped pyramid of Djosser where you could see the development of pyramid construction. It was certainly somewhere to go on our return visit.
The rest of us had plenty of time before heading to the airport. Julie and I had decided to visit the citadel here in Cairo but off our own steam, not on a guided tour. With saftey in numbers, everyone else thought the same, so we all agreed to go together.
In our day room we were reunited with our missing rucksack. The first thing Julie did was to put on her favourite dress, her sunglasses, and her new green scarf, bought especially for this trip. Although it was a real eye-opener how well we had survived on only half our clothes.
As we were about to leave we passed the room where Michelle and Rebecca were in. We could hear that Michelle was not happy. In fact she was furious. She had just received a message from British Airways informing her that her flight had been cancelled. That was it, no offer of an alternative flight, she was just dumped, left in the lurch, stranded in Cairo. Where was their "duty of care" ?
We felt so sorry for her. Now she didn't know how she was getting home. Not only did she have to book another flight, she had to get another covid-19 PCR test. The US entry requirements needed a negative test result within 48 hours of her flight. We left her in the capable hands of Hany who had stayed on to help.
The rest of us got two Uber taxis from the hotel to the citadel. Rebecca joined Julie and I whereas Doris & Sydney shared with Teresa & Anthony.
We crossed the river over the Kasr Al Nile Bridge reaching Tahrir Square. I expected to turn right but we continued straight on. It felt like we were going the long way around, but it didn't matter. The price was set. The taxi was incredibly cheap at only 33 lei (£1.58) for a journey that took us over twenty minutes across the city. The app couldn't discriminate (not yet anyway) between local or tourist so we got the local price.
We were dropped off at the side of the road and walked uphill to find the ticket booth. The entrance fee was 180 lei per person which I thought was reasonable. There were several sights to see inside the citadel. It had been a fortified royal residence for centuries, since 1176 in fact, constructed by the Sultan Salah-ad-din, a Kurdish military commander who rose to power in Egypt in the 12th century to become the first Sultan of Egypt and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.
Of course, dates are referenced differently in the Islamic calendar. The "year zero" event was the formation of the first Muslim community by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina, July 622AD. All dates are then referenced from that moment. So the 12th century AD would be the 7th century AH.
The citadel housed four mosques, a palace and both a Military and a Police museum. Plenty to see for the money.
The first place of importance we saw was the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, built in a style that reminded us of the mosques of Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire had extended to Egypt during the early 16th century. This mosque was built between 1830-1848. (AD) and designed by an architect responsible for many mosques in Istanbul.
Muhammad Ali Pasha was an Albanian military commander in the Ottoman army. At the turn of the 19th century France briefly occupied Egypt and Syria. When Napoleon withdrew his troops in 1802 Muhammad Ali was sent to Egypt to restore Ottoman control.
He did that and more as he soon rebelled against his Ottoman masters eventually releasing Egypt from their shackles. He's often called the father of modern Egypt, establishing a hereditary dynasty that ruled Egypt until a revolution in 1953.
When he died he was buried inside the mosque.
Despite the great importance of the mosque the first thing I wanted to see was the view over Cairo from the citadel's fortifications. Built on a spur of the Mokattam hills it had a commanding position.
So we walked along the side of the mosque, bearing left up to a terrace. Everyone followed me. I felt like I should have been holding up a small sign like a tour guide. I didn't really know where I was going, so I was much relieved when we arrived at precisely the right spot for the best views.
Directly in front of us was the breathtaking sight of the 14th century Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan on the left and the Al-Rifa'i Mosque on the right built over 500 years later. Standing side by side you couldn't tell the difference in age.
Sultan Hassan comissioned the mosque with no expense spared. His extravagant lifestyle and excessive spending of public funds eventually got him overthrown and assasinated in 1361, two years before the mosque was completed.
Al-Rifa'i is often referred to as the Royal mosque as many of Muhamad Ali Pasha's family were buried there. It wasn't completed until 1912. It's remarkable how similar they look.
Hany had mentioned that on a clear day you could see the pyarmids from the citadel. And sure enough there they were. It made us realise how massive they were and how the city has now encircled them.
After admiring the views from all angles we moved on, walking back towards the Mosque of Mohammad Ali. Julie prepared her head scarf out of respect for the culture and wrapped it around before entering.
We first came to the stunning alabaster courtyard. We took off our shoes as is customary and stepped inside. Arched colonades, each topped with a small lead-lined dome, flanked all four sides. In its centre was a beautiful pavillion, sheltering the ablutions fountain.
We walked around the edges. The shiny marble pavings appeared very slipperly underfoot. Of course they weren't but Julie wasn't taking any chances.
On the back wall, looking well out of place, was an ornate clocktower. It was a gift from King Louis Phillipe of France in a way of rebuilding relations after Napoleon's ill-judged invasion. Muhammad Ali reciprocated the gesture and gifted one of the obelisks from Luxor, which now stands in Place de la Concord in Paris. It hardly seemed a fair swap!
We continued to walk around the edges of the courtyard, peering out of the latticed windows overlooking the city, eventually making our way back to the doorway into the mosque.
I had a flashback of memories visiting here when I was twelve. I remembered the lights of the chandeliers magically floating in the air above my head.
The shiny alabaster floor continued inside and halfway up the walls. In the corner a golden minbar, the staircase leading up to a pulpit from which the imam would preach, was absolutely stunning. There was another smaller minbar constructed from the alabaster to the side of it.
Then there was the ceiling of gold and emerald geometric abundance, as glorious as any cathedral dome. We shuffled along in awe of all its beauty.
We stepped out of the mosque through another doorway, out into the gardens. The group had dispersed as we all followed our own way, but having spent a week moving around together we instinctively gathered in a herd before moving on.
From the garden, we followed the path around the side of the mosque, its alabaster walls looking even more impressive close up.
As we came down the steps we had three options; turn down towards the Police Museum, which nobody was fussed about; or up to the left for the Military museum, which stirred Rebecca's interest wth her ex-forces background; or to the right to visit another mosque, for which the rest of us opted.
The Al-Nasir Muhammad mosque was built in 1318 and was an architectural delight. It was a simple design but there was something wonderful about it. I think it was its bare stone with a mix of natural colours of ochre, reds, purples and black. There was something earthy and ancient about it.
Lights were suspended from bars between the arches of a double colonade which surrounded the large rectangle courtyard. Above the arches were a row of windows, giving the impression of it having an upper floor but it did not. Then above it all, crowning the Eastern wall was a large blue dome.
There weren't many visitors inside. In fact the only other group was a mother and father who were photographing the life out of their two children. Despite the enormous space they were always getting in the way of my own photography!
We followed a red carpet across the courtyard from the entrance to where the mihrab was positioned. It was a niche in the wall, like a doorway signifying the direction to face Mecca. To the right of it was a wooden minbar.
It was a very auspicious place. For centuries this is where the Sultans of Egypt would kneel down in prayer. Today small chidren climb onto the minbar like monkeys or stand in the mihrab like a sentry to pose for photos.
After taking a few photographs we turned around and followed the red carpet back towards the way we came in, catching a g;impse of the ornate minaret above the entrance.
With our shoes back on our feet we walked towards the fortress, towards the military museum.
Doris and Sydney chose to sit on the wall. Julie joined them. Teresa, Anthony and I walked through a small security check then across an exceptionally shiny marble square towards a statue of Ibrahim Pasha on horseback.
There were some miltary paraphernalia on display in the square, like artillery, canons and a jet plane.
Along one side of the square I spotted a cafe, so I popped back to ask Julie if she wanted to join me. We then spent a pleasant twenty minutes sitting outside, sharing a packet of crisps and a pineapple drink. It was nice to relax and people watch.
Although we must not have been paying much attention. When Sydney messaged us on the What's App group to say they were heading back to the exit, we were surprised to be the last to return. The others must have walked past us sat outside the cafe without us even noticing them.
Anyway, with the herd together again we arranged for two taxis as we walked down the hill towards our pick-up point.
On the way this young lad was trying to sell me some nasty calendars. I tried ignoring him but he was quite persistent. "I'm really sorry" I said "but I don't like them."
"Do you like them?" I asked "Would you buy them?"
He smiled, shook his head, and understood
The uber taxis arrived and we got in them in the same groups as we arrived. We certainly are creatures of habit.
Along the way we passed the stunning Al Sayeda Aisha Mosque. It contained the mausoleum the daughter of an iman, said to be a direct descendant of the prophet Muhhamad. It dates back originally to the 14th century but it was completey rebult in the 18th century. The minaret and dome with their stucco plaster were absolutely breathtaking. It's such a shame that all we saw of it was a quick flash as we drove along the fly-over.
Back at the hotel we decided to have a late lunch. I tried their meat-free aubergine mossaqa which was incredibly tasty. I also ordered a bowl of molokhaya because I just wanted to try it one last time before we left. I had forgotten how large the portions were here. I was so full it was ridiculous and at 35 lei each it was incredible value.
We got a chance to say goodbye to Michelle who had sorted out her arrangements and booked a flight to Doha this afternoon. She needed a new PCR test to enter Qatar, even if it was only in transit within the airport. Hany had worked miracles by getting it arranged, including the results before she left. She then had an onward flight to the US after a six hour layoff.
After we had eaten we decided we may as well get a taxi to the airport. Rebecca also needed to get there around the same time, so we ended up sharing an uber.
As we crossed the Nile one last time, heading towards Tahir Square, we laughed out loud when we saw the five star luxury Nile Ritz-Carlton Hotel. When we originally booked this trip, we were due to travel in October and we had actually booked our anniversary at the iconic hotel. The pandemic restrictions put an end to that idea and we rebooked the trip for now, late-February but as it wasn't a special occassion we didn't book the Ritz-Carlton.
It took us over three quarters of an hour to get across the city to the airport. Thankfully we weren't flying today, but very early tomorrow morning so were staying at a Novotel, near to the terminal.
Rebecca however had a flight in two hours. We said our goodbyes as we went inside to check-in whilst she waited for the free shuttle bus to the terminal.
"You have a pool view room" said the receptionist. "Yay!" we thought until we walked across the large inner garden courtyard with a pool, and saw they were busy preparing for a wedding party.
"That's not going to be quiet" said Julie.
True enough, when we re-emerged from our room after catching a few forty winks, guests were begining to arrive.
By the time we had eaten a rather terrible and overpriced Italian meal at the bar in the foyer the party was in full swing. The bride and groom were ripping it up on the dancefloor. The music was pounding, the guests were bouncing. We weren't going to get to sleep anytime soon.
We kept on checking our British Airways flight and ,,, so far ,,, it hadn't been cancelled, so we set our alarm for 3am.Next Day >>>
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