Cairo, Egypt. Thoughts of the pyramids, ancient civilizations, and Indiana Jones movies come to mind. After experiencing Cairo and its seventeen million people for a couple days, I’m pretty sure my thoughts are of pyramids, headaches, insane traffic, and people trying to swindle you out of every last Egyptian pound in your wallet. We arrived in Egypt at 4:30 am and our hostel had our airport transfer waiting for us on our arrival. We were very tired at this point and decided to sleep in and then see the Cairo museum the following day.
Our experience at the Cairo museum was a disappointing one. Imagine a museum with incredible ancient Egyptian relics, stone carvings, and jewelry. Now imagine viewing all of these in a city whose temperature is 95 degrees in a building that has no air conditioning, and little if any signage explaining to the museum goer what they are looking at and why it is significant. That’s the best description I can give to the place. Oh, and there’s no photography allowed. So, to summarize, it’s fine to have four thousand year old artifacts sitting around in sweltering heat, but it’s not okay to take any pictures of them. At least the section of King Tut’s tomb and his solid gold burial mask was pretty impressive. We learned that he became one of the most famous ancient Egyptian kings solely because of how well his tomb and all the artifacts inside of it were preserved.
After this we wanted to find a McDonald’s because it was one of the only places that was open for lunch during the Muslim time of Ramadan. Ramadan is a yearly occurrence among Muslims that requires them to fast during daylight hours. While we were attempting to get over to the McDonalds a “nice” man wanted to help us out by telling us where the McDonalds was located. Only he thought we would like to stop at his family owned perfume/oil shop first, proceed to tell us that McDonalds is currently closed for another two hours in the afternoon because of Ramadan, ask us if we’d like to stay awhile and see if there were any perfumes or oils that we were interested in purchasing, and then do everything in his power to make us stay until we purchased something. Congratulations, you have experienced your first attempt at getting forced into buying something you previously had no interest in, an Egyptian specialty. After that uncomfortable 15 minutes passed, we made our way over to the McDonalds. Which happens to be open 24 hours.
The next day we checked out the most famous market in all of Cairo, Khan El-Khalili. At least we were prepared for all the shouting to buy all sorts of various wares, from spices to glow-in-the-dark-pyramids to knock-off designer purses. They had it all. Dana picked up a silk scarf and I was happy to bargain the seller down 90% from his original asking price. I figured my extensive knowledge of movie quotes prepared me quite well for this exchange, because as Ralphie said in the movie A Christmas Story, “My man loved bargaining as much as an Arab trader, and he was twice as shrewd.” (And if you happen to be non-American and reading this blog, please do yourself a favor and go see that movie immediately, it’s a classic. But I digress.)
After about a dozen more attempts to have private tours through the market and all sorts of other ways to make us part with our money, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for our big upcoming date with the Pyramids of Giza.