Journal: Thursday 28 September 2000
Sitting quietly in the rooftop restaurant of the Ciao Hotel at breakfast this morning, by an open window enjoying the relatively clean air, high enough up for the petrol fumes not to reach us, Jenny and I were in a subdued mood. I knew that she was feeling the same about Cairo as I was and we had both had enough of the city. We had had our share of transport problems; the metro didn’t go anywhere we really wanted to visit and the thought of trying to take a bus to the monuments on the other side of the Nile was not an option we wanted to consider. By the third cup of coffee I had decided to make a telephone call to Luxor to see if the apartment we had arranged for next week was available early. We were in luck – the owner said we could have it tomorrow if we wanted and so our first port of call today was to the railway station to buy tickets on the earliest possible night train to Luxor. The concept of queuing does not seem to be understood in Egypt and the ticket office at Rameses station was a free-for-all, with whole families pushing and shoving their way to the front, but after asserting ourselves with our elbows we finally arrived at the front and managed to secure tickets for tonight. With the tickets in my hand, my spirits instantly lifted.
Walking out to the front of the railway station we went to visit Rameses the Great, whose colossal statue, twin to the reclining statue I had seen at Memphis, stands in the centre of Midan Rameses, surrounded by scaffolding and waiting taxis, looking very neglected and forlorn. It is rumoured that he is to be moved to a better environment away from the damaging pollution of the city traffic. Next we went down into the Metro station to have a look at the map and found that we could travel on the Metro almost to Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum. It was only three stations away. It took us a while to find the right platform, taking many wrong turns down long stiflingly hot tunnels that all looked the same, hindered by the fact that all the signs were only in Arabic. Jenny and I bought our tickets and had only a few minutes wait for the train. The crowded carriage was full of men, who watched us with interest and it wasn’t until later I realised that there are separate carriages reserved for women only. The journey lasted 15 minutes and getting off the train at Sadat Metro station, we found our way back to ground level and walked the short distance to Midan Tahrir and the Egyptian Museum. The Cairo Metro was a new experience for me, having only travelled on the Paris Metro before many years ago, and I was very impressed by the cleanliness of the stations here. It certainly felt easier than dealing with the taxi drivers again.
Spending several hours in the museum we saw many more of the galleries than we had had time for on Monday. It was very crowded this morning with tour groups whose guides were shouting above the noise of other tour guides and competing for space around the most of the major exhibits. The noise was deafening, echoing off the high roof of the atrium, but by lunchtime the museum had become less chaotic and there was even an hour or so in the early afternoon when it became quite empty and I was able to take photographs. The time passed very quickly for us, lost as we were in the wonderful works of art there, especially in the Amarna gallery, with its fabulous colossal statue of Akhenaten. Coming out into the dazzling late afternoon sun, we wandered for a while around the garden, where there are many interesting pieces of statuary scattered along its paths, before risking a taxi back to our hotel to pack and get something to eat.
We had plenty of time and had dinner in the hotel restaurant that was beginning to fill up for the evening. The restaurant seems to be a popular place for Cairenes to spend the evening. We didn’t need to be at the railway station until Midnight, so Jenny and I took a little stroll around the local streets, noisy and vibrant with city night-life, to say goodbye to Cairo. I’ll be back one day, but for now I was looking forward to being in Luxor again, my second home.