Journal: Sunday & Monday 23-24 November 2003
We are staying in the Victoria Hotel on el-Gumhuriya, a lovely fading colonial-style building where I could imagine modestly-dressed Victorian ladies, complete with parasols, gossiping and sipping tea in the glass conservatory. Though it has undoubtedly seen more prosperous days, the Victoria must once have been a grand hotel. The huge foyer leads to a wide curving stone staircase curling around several floors. The high-ceilinged bedrooms are large and airy and mine has recently been decorated – so recently that it still smells of paint and I had to open the windows. The lounge has many scuffed leather sofas and armchairs, antique polished tables and faded oriental rugs and has the quiet air of a gentleman’s club. I loved it instantly.
After our late arrival in Cairo in the early hours of Sunday morning we didn’t surface again until lunchtime, though I did wake once, startled by the morning’s first Allah’u Akhbar from the mosque right outside my second floor window. I met Sam in the lounge for a couple of cups of coffee and was delighted to find that the hotel has computers with internet that can be used by guests, so I spent a couple of hours catching up on emails. I also was able to unpack my suitcase properly for the first time in three weeks. Being on the move constantly since I arrived in Egypt I found that my bag was full of dirty laundry, so set about rectifying this, filling my bathroom with dripping clothes. Next time I’ll send them to the laundry.
After an early meal at Hatay, a local restaurant that was packed with Egyptian men and a few couples taking their Iftar meal, Sam and I took a short evening stroll through the nearby streets, inevitably ending up sitting outside a coffee shop. We were both still feeling like zombies, so we didn’t linger and went back to the hotel for an early night.
Monday morning found me a little more alert, but at breakfast Sam announced that she was going back to bed. Not wanting to waste another day I set off to practice crossing roads through the vicious Cairo traffic, an act of bravery on my part. Whenever I walk in Cairo I seem to gravitate towards the Nile, invariably finding myself in the vicinity of the Egyptian Museum and today was no exception. Joining the queue to get into the museum gardens and then another into the museum itself, I watched people of all nationalities excitedly chattering in dozens of different languages. I usually make a point of not visiting the museum in the mornings as it is often at its most crowded then, tourist guides shouting to their charges and elbowing solo people out of the way in the rudest manner. But it is always possible to get into some of the less popular rooms and out of the fray. The museum, with its dirt-encrusted skylights, dusty glass cases and huge statues packed into a space far too small for so many valuable treasures is both delightful and frustrating and like nowhere else on earth.
On the way to the museum I had dropped off a film to be developed in a Kodak shop, eager to see if I had been able to take pictures after my Nikon stopped working in the White Desert. I collected the film on the way back to the hotel and was pleased to find that the photographs were not as disastrous as I had imagined. With no metering and no wind-on mechanism it had all been pure guesswork.
This evening we had to return the hire car to Mohandesin on the West Bank so Sam and I took the opportunity to eat at her favourite restaurant Kadoura, where fishy eyes stare out at customers entering the restaurant and implore you to chose them for dinner. I had Kadoura’s excellent salads as usual after hurrying past the fish and up the stairs without looking. Taking a taxi back into Cairo, the roads were so clogged up with traffic at 11.00pm that we had to get out at Opera and walk the rest of the way to the hotel. It was raining, which was perhaps the reason for the jammed-up roads. Cairo drivers seen to panic with the first few drops, abandoning cars everywhere. They’d never survive in England!