Journal: Friday 28 November 2003
Cairo is quiet today, especially for a Friday, but the three-day Feast of Eid is almost over and this is a holy day for many Egyptians. Sam had stuff to do today, our last day in Egypt and she was going off on her own. Once more I was drawn down towards Midan Tahrir wandering through the (comparatively) deserted streets to the always-busy square, I’m even getting braver at crossing the roads there. Stopping in the Nile Hilton for a cup of coffee, I sat on the terrace watching passers-by for a while, an occupation I always enjoy.
Later in the morning I went into the Egyptian Museum, hoping the morning rush would have subsided by now, but it was still very crowded. I did manage to get a few more photographs in the smaller galleries upstairs, but as usual the light here wasn’t very good and the glass on the cases was dusty and smeared with fingerprints, so frustrating.
From here I took a taxi to the Citadel. This was the only area of ‘Islamic Cairo’ that we hadn’t visited on this trip and I wanted to visit the mosques there. I have already been in Mohammed Ali’s mosque – which is a bit ornate for my taste – and so I wanted to see what other monuments there were. But I had forgotten it was a special Friday and the whole of the Citadel was closed to tourists when I got there.
I decided to walk back to the Victoria Hotel, which seemed to be much further than it looked on my street map, but I enjoyed the walk and thought about all the things I had seen in Cairo. The whole trip this time has felt like several separate holidays and it’s hard to believe I have only been in Egypt for a month. It seems a lifetime ago I flew into Luxor with half a dozen friends from England.
We had spent a few days in Luxor and then Abydos before beginning our adventure in the Western Desert, visiting sites in the oases of Kharga, Dakhla, Farafra and Bahariya. As these were all new sites for me it was very exciting. Still with the group we had visited the most important pharaonic monuments in Cairo, the fabulous pyramids and tombs of Giza and Saqqara before they left to go home. A couple more days mooching about Cairo on my own and I felt like I was getting to know the real city and not just the tourist spots.
Then Sam and I left Cairo in a hire car for our own adventure, staying in the lovely little laid-back town of Dahab in Sinai. It was on our long drive to St Catherine’s Monastery that I truly fell in love with the desert – at least from the comfort of a car. I wouldn’t want to be lost or marooned out there in the wide expanse of parched sands and strangely carved and colourful mountains. But it is so beautiful and the scenery is truly captivating.
Back in Cairo another vista of the city had opened up for us in the form of the wonderful medieval monuments that told the story of Cairo’s later dynasties of Sultans and Amirs, Pashas and Beys. I was transfixed by the narrow ancient streets and the grand domes and minarets, intermingled with fabulous houses of centuries past.
It’s going to be very hard to leave, but early tomorrow morning Sam and I will be on our flight home to London. We will have a huge amount of really great memories and an even bigger amount of photographs to sort out that will keep us busy until we return again next year.