“We’re in AFRICA!”

[February 2015]

“Hey! Did you realize we were on three continents between last night and now?” Shavonne asked Kyndal in the car. They both live on the Asian side of Istanbul. I, however, live on the European side. I thought about what she said for a moment and then burst with excitement. “Asia…You went to the Europe side for the airport…Oh my goodness! We’re in AFRICA!” Somehow, it totally escaped me that traveling to Egypt also meant stepping onto a continent I had never visited.

We arrived late in the night to our hostel in Cairo. The next morning, we were greeted by Shavonne’s friend-of-a-friend named Samir. Samir was a real blessing to us. I cannot imagine exploring Cairo without him. His English was fantastic and it was such a comfort to have someone with us who spoke Arabic. He negotiated with the taxi drivers for us (which was remarkably cheap), took us out for true Egyptian meals, and patiently waited while we shopped.

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Our first stop was to the Citadel. This was a military fortification at one point and is now a mosque and hosts several museums.

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The Citadel (left), inside the mosque (center), just as you exit the mosque (right)

There was an incredible view from the terrace where we caught our first glance of the Pyramids of Giza in the distance.

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Following the Citadel, Samir’s friend Amal joined us and drove us to the Christian quarter of Cairo. Samir was an incredible tour guide as he explained the significance of the art and the history of these places.

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The picture on the right above is what Samir called the Egyptian Mona Lisa.

While the churches were lovely, my favorite part about Cairo was this one store in the Christian quarter. There were beautiful tapestries (I wanted them ALL), chairs, jewelry boxes, and other lovely pieces… It was heaven, really. I was hesitant to buy a tapestry that I had my eye on because it was so expensive and I thought, “It’s the first day. I can probably find this somewhere else cheaper…” When we left, I was so anxious, though. I knew we would be back in Cairo later in the week, but all I could think about was that tapestry and the feeling of regret I would have if we didn’t make it back to the shop in time.

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Throughout our travels, we did NOT come across anything like I had seen in Cairo, and certainly not anything of that quality. We were able to return to the shop and I was able to get a better price, but he certainly wasn’t happy about it.

DSC_1221 The lucky winner.

After enjoying some mint tea and salep (a dramatic tale for another blog post), we wandered around the market. I stumbled into a Papyrus shop. Papyrus paintings are something I know NOTHING about so I have NO idea how much they are worth and what makes them real or fake or high quality… But I knew that they were pretty and I wanted a few. We really enjoyed learning about the stories depicted in the paintings. I bought myself three and still wish I bought more… Or at least one with a boat and one with a lucky bug in addition to my three… I became obsessed with the lucky bug.

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IMG-20150413-WA0006 This is the Tree of Life, a map of Egypt, and the Three Musicians. I had them matted and framed when I returned to Istanbul. Sadly, I STILL need to have them hung up on my wall…

The next day, we went to The Pyramids of Giza and Sakkar.

When we first drove up to the pyramids, they were remarkable. Personally, once I paid to get in, the magic wore off. Since you can’t go inside them, there wasn’t much to it other than a closer view. If I could do it again (which I won’t because once was enough), I would probably pay for the camel ride around the pyramids just to get some better pictures. So for those of you looking to explore the Pyramids of Giza still at some point in your life, just pay the camel man.

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I enjoyed going to the Pyramids of Sakkar a little more because it was more compact and we actually got to climb on things.

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When we returned that night, we went out for an Egyptian dinner (Koshari, a very filling noodle and rice dish) with Samir and Amal. We also celebrated Samir’s birthday. This dinner was DELICIOUS until I poured some sort of spicy oil all over my meal. It was too hot to handle, and I LOVE hot food. I couldn’t finish my meal, but we were all able to enjoy some sort of fried sugary dough for a birthday dessert! 

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This dinner was in the Arabic quarter. I guess they don’t see many tourists there, so a young man asked if he could take our picture for the shop. In return he showed us some magic tricks.

As we strolled around before leaving for Luxor that night, I couldn’t help but notice the pollution. The pollution, in Cairo especially, is out of control. Everyone has a dry cough [from the air] that doesn’t go away, my skin broke out like a twelve-year-old girl, and there is garbage everywhere. In Turkey, people throw garbage on the streets all the time, but the streets and the parks are cleaned EVERY SINGLE DAY.

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That said, there are also really beautiful, clean neighborhoods in Cairo.

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The days that followed in Luxor and Aswan were a real adventure worthy of their own blog post. Check in again soon!

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