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Confusing Cairo

January 18, 2011

After the pyramids, you may wonder what is left to see in Cairo. Ah, plenty! We wandered around that city for a week and did not run out of things to see. We also realized just how little of the city we actually did see (when you see the Picasa photos, you will understand…speaking of the photos, I am making progress and have posted some to Picasa. I took a lot and am trying to not overwhelm you with all of them…though for once I had a good number of photos taken of myself, to prove I actually WAS there!

On Tuesday we decided to see the Citadel, and Terry told me we were going to find the City of the Dead, as we had been unable to find it on Monday. The information we had made it sound like it was so easy to find the place, and while we had driven by it, it is not so easy to find it on foot. I figure whoever wrote these “guides” must have been people who were FROM Cairo, given the terms they used. But he was determined that we would find it that day.

So off to the Citadel we went. It is high enough that we should have been able to get some great panoramic shots, but although it was sunny, there was a lot of smog. In fact, we found that as we went through the week, it got progressively smoggier – bummer for panoramic photos, but how many does a person really need to take, right?

The bigger bummer for my photos, to forewarn you, is that there was apparently something either on the lens (not likely, because I kept checking and cleaning it) or IN the camera that is causing marks to appear on nearly all my photos. This is so disheartening for me.

Nonetheless, I took many photos at the Citadel, of course – architecture galore. I also, for the first time, went inside a mosque (two actually). Although they are no longer in use, they still retain the layout from when they were and truth be told, I had no idea what the different things were for!

That is most of what the Citadel is – there is a police museum and military museum too (yawn), but the main “attraction” is the Muhammed Ali Mosque, which is pretty ornate and beautiful. There was another mosque there as well, called the Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad, which is actually more beautiful architecturally than the other, though not as ornate.

Upon leaving the Citadel, we were once again accosted by taxi drivers. The entire time we were there, if we were walking down the street, the taxi drivers would slow down, honk their horn, and offer their services. I stopped even looking at them and just waved them by. These guys, though, were waiting at the bottom of the hill of the Citadel (they got charged if they went past the gate) and did not want to take “no” for an answer. Terry told them we wanted to go to the City of the Dead, and one said “no, no, that’s too dangerous – you don’t want to go there. I’ll take  you to Khan el Khalili.”  I said “funny, everything I have read says it is safe,” to which he said “I can see that you don’t trust people.” Well, even if he had had a chance for a sale, it was gone then. So off we went, on foot, to find the City of the Dead.

After more confusion (that map really was pretty worthless), we at long last found the City of the Dead. In case you are wondering why I wanted to see it, here is a description:

Qarafa, or the City of the Dead, is situated in the east of Islamic Cairo, stretching from the foot of the Citadel to the Muqattam Hills. The City of the Dead is actually two cemeteries, dating back to Mamluk times: a southern cemetery, and a northern cemetery. Traditionally, every family in Cairo would maintain some sort of mausoleum, somewhere in Cairo, where family members were buried. To this day, the cemeteries are still in use. As well as for the dead, the cemeteries provide homes for the living. Families live within the mausoleums. Some have been there for generations, and look after the tombs for their owners. Others are more recent, tolerated squatters, many of whom were displaced from the canal zone during the 1967 war. No-one knows for sure how many people live in the City of the Dead, though it’s probably in the region of half a million.

People living in a cemetery. I thought it would be interesting. It actually was, and we happened across what appeared to be a funeral procession while we were wandering through it. So at long last, after much confusion, I got to see Qarafa. I did not take photos – did not want to make trouble or be too invasive. One little boy we ran across told me I should be wearing a veil. I said “guess what kid, I’m not Muslim and kept going.”

More stares. I actually got to the point where I knew men were staring (sometimes women too) but I ignored it. Terry would notice if someone was staring a bit too long, then give the person a long look. I did the same a couple of times, mainly when I noticed them staring on the Metro. It is because I am so gorgeous, right? Maybe it was my new blinged-out sunglasses, which made me look like a movie star…

In our wanderings on Tuesday we passed the people selling roasted corn on the cob for about the hundredth time. Any of you who have been to a state fair know the joy of roasted corn on the cob – sweet, smoky, tender, hot. So at long last Terry decided to get some. In short, it was basically feed corn that is roasted over a bbq – it was terrible, and I don’t know how people get it off the cob to eat it – they must have iron teeth (or no teeth, in some cases – perhaps from eating too much of this stuff?). Oh, my, was it horrible. He gave up even trying to eat after managing to get a few bites off. So – for those of you who go to Cairo and are tempted by the corn I say – stick with the yams.

Also in our wanderings, we decided to look for Al-Azhar Park, and once again we failed. This was getting frustrating. We began to understand why everyone said to use taxi drivers, however, we also found that half of the time the taxi drivers did not know where a place was, at least if you used the English name, and half the time that is all we had. Ah well…

That night, Terry fulfilled another of his goals for Cairo – to try pigeon. I stuck with a mini meat dumpling thing, as I have had cornish game hens and figured pigeon would not be too different from those. It wasn’t.

The first round of photos are going up on Picasa right now. I will add more in the next couple of days (yep, there’s more).

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