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Charismatic Cairo

January 19, 2011

Day 6 of our Cairo adventure. At breakfast Terry told me “today we are going to find the Nilometer.” We had previously looked for it and had gotten to the complex around it at the time it was closing. It may sound strange that I was so interested in seeing something most people have not heard of, but I like doing the “off the beaten path” things, not just seeing the tourist sights (and honestly, some of the sights were not that appealing, plus the fact that how many museums and mosques can a person see, anyway?).

So it was back to the Metro – Terry had a plan for getting us to the Nilometer. As we had gone through the week, he had studied the map (such as it was) quite a bit, whereas I had not, so I figured eh, okay.  As I was waiting on the platform for the Metro, a man came up next to me and shoved/elbowed me, so I did it back to him. Well, this did not elicit a positive response but seriously? He shoves me and thinks I won’t respond? Maybe someone else but not me.

Other than that, it was an uneventful ride. As usual, I was one of the few women in the “general” car, especially during rush hour (I noticed that women tended to ride more in the general car during non rush hours, which makes sense because during rush hour it is awfully crowded).

So we finally made it to the Nilometer. Never heard of it?

The Nilometer in Cairo, on the southern tip of Roda Island, is a unique historical site which is often overlooked by visitors. It is one of the oldest existent structures which dates back to the period just after the Arab conquest of Egypt. Nilometers, known as al-Miqyas in Arabic, were used to measure the levels of the Nile River and are a remarkable reminder of Egypt’s illustrious past. These water measurement structures continued to be useful up until the modern era when the Nile’s natural flows were disrupted by large water storage reservoirs. Since the Nile River has been of critical economic importance to both ancient and modern civilizations alike, officials have gauged its water levels for more than 5,000 years, writing them down for more than 13 centuries. The Nilometer is an excellent example of an historic water measurement device.

After we had climbed down the stairs (narrow, no hand rail – what is up with the no safety measurements?) with me hugging the wall, learned about the Nilometer, taken some photos (I have a great one up the Nilometer on Picasa), we determined that next we would seek out one of the few things Terry had wanted to see (which we had also not found the first time we looked), Al-Azhar Park.

Al-Azhar Park is another “off the beaten path” destination – literally, when we were there, we were the only non-Egyptians in the place.  It was really interesting, though because it is (1) a park and (2) still undergoing some development, there was not a lot “to do”. But we had lunch, and went down the stairs to explore by the old city wall. And there I had yet another interesting experience.

I got down to the bottom of the stairs, to what is labeled on the map as a “visitors’ area” where there were about four or five benches. As my legs were sore from the previous day’s climb and then descent down these stairs, I sat down on one of the benches. Immediately, a man in a uniform came my way. “Uh oh,” I thought, “he is going to want to tell me about the wall, and then want some money.”

I was wrong.

He came over and told me I could not sit on the bench. What? I asked why not, as benches are meant for sitting. He kept repeating that I could not sit on the bench. I kept asking why they have benches if a person cannot sit on them. This went nowhere, and I did not want to end up in an Egyptian jail for sitting on a damn bench, so I got up and started walking. I made sure to warn Terry when he made it to the bottom of the stairs to not sit on the bench. After that, as we walked along the old wall, the other tourist police, or whoever they were, were nice, but they really hovered. So we rather quickly made our exit into a yet new part of town (to us, it was actually the old part of town) and wandered.

The funny thing about wandering in streets and alleys – people think you are lost. People kept trying to direct us to the Blue Mosque, or such and such square. A taxi driver kept insisting that we needed to go to Khan el-Khalili (do these guys get a cut of revenue from that place, or what?). People really did not seem to want us to just wander and explore – it is as if, as tourists, we NEEDED a destination. Perhaps they were just used to Americans who were “lost” getting panicky.

We then decided to hop a bus and see where it would take us – to the end of the line, which was walking distance from a Metro stop, which would take us to the hotel (we were doing less and less walking as the week went on. I attribute this day’s buses and Metros to the previous day’s climb and the fact that my quads were really, really sore).

We got back to the hotel early (in my eyes) so I determined to go down to the lounge. I started chatting with a man, who turned out to be French, had lived in the U.S. (Dallas, of all places) for 10 years, and was now living in Cairo. He also used to work for the Hilton Corp, designing hotels. While we were talking, a woman came over to us and said “I could not help overhearing that you had heard of the Windsor. This gentleman is my father, and he is the owner of the Windsor”.

Mr. Doss has a fascinating story. I won’t go into it here, as this post is already getting long and still more happened to us. But Mr. Doss and his daughter shared some wine with us, shared the sparkling wine we had bought at the airport duty-free shop, and chatted for a couple of hours.

How often do you stay at a hotel and not only meet the owner, but get to sit and learn his story, the hotel’s story, and share a drink with him?

Unfortunately, we could only spend so long chatting, as we had made reservations for a dinner cruise on the Nile (yeah, typical touristy thing) and they needed to leave (after all, they don’t live at the hotel).  The dinner cruise was nice but if anyone ever does something like that, I suggest that you go in a group, as they get the “good” seats and smaller parties get relegated to the far tables, where you cannot really see the entertainment and you are furthest from the food. Luckily we had seen real Sufi dancing already but we also did not really get to see the belly dancer. Well, these things clearly cater to the large groups.

I laughed out loud at the waiter when I asked how much a soda cost (no alcohol on the cruise!) and he said 35 pounds. We stuck with water, which was expensive enough – captive audience and all.

So Thursday ended up having a happy surprise when we met the owner of the hotel – and his daughter showed us around some of the other rooms too, so we really got to see how each room is unique.

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