If only I could summarize Cairo in three phrases then they would be: dysfunctional trash bin resulting in litter strewn streets, very functioning horns, and culture of baksheesh. And all of them, fortunately with the rich history backgrounds that spanning more than five thousands years from the Ancient Egypt to Islamic era and minority Coptic community to today’s modern Cairo.
We spent the whole day exploring Cairo. Afwan, our guide, took us not only to those tourists usual sites but also the backside of Cairo not usually in the tour agent itinerary. He showed us areas full of student dormitories from Indonesia and Malaysia in Nasr City, visited student-run businesses such as restaurants serving the students, to Al Azhar campuses, or to mausoleum of Imam Shafi’i. He insisted us to aboard public boat ride on the last night in Cairo, which we’re grateful we accepted later.
Started at 8.30 in the morning we hit the road for the Mosque of Amr bin Al-Aas, the first mosque ever built in Egypt. Within walking distances to it is Coptic Cairo areas with as many churches in one single area as could be in Cairo.
We’re trapped in typical Cairo traffic trying to get to Asfour Crystal (hey check your purchase!) on the north Cairo before recharging ourselves with simple West Sumatra cuisines in Nasr City.
Then, tuck into a slum area of the City of the Dead, where 500,000 people depend their daily life to the eery city, for a mausoleum of Imam Shafi’i before going to the beautiful mosque of Ibn Tulun. The latter has inspired I.M. Pei to build Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art based on cubism architectures in the mosque.
Khan el-Khalili was the next stop, the perfect place to practice your haggling skills! We’re fortunate we had Afwan as he is fluent in Arabic and with his sense of humor he always managed to get big discounts. Prices for souvenirs here are cheaper by Qatar standard.
While in here, we visited El Fishawy coffee shop, tempted by a good review in Lonely Planet. With a glass of coffee as cheap as 4 QAR and shisha for 10QAR this two-century old coffee shop is a treat after that shopping marathon in the bazaar or if you fancy people watching. Prepare your refusal words though as no single minute passed without roaming vendors!
We closed our Cairo chapter by taking a cheap public boat ride (70 EGP for 3 adults 2 children?); a 20-min ride on the river Nile, accompanied by blaring Arabic music, tacky dances by the youth and with glittering views of building alongside the river.
Today is our fourth day in Egypt. Our plan is to fly out of Cairo to Luxor, a city frequently characterized as the world’s greatest open air museum .
We had until 10am in the morning before we checked out from Novotel. Not long before we’re ready for a short walk across Tahrir Bridge. It was Saturday, traffic was expectedly low and quiet, and the weather was so pleasant. We leisurely walked on the bridge that spanning around 360m over the river Nile, down to Tahrir Square, and then back to the hotel. A good 30-min walking exercise before good breakfast at Novotel.
The flight to Luxor is only one hour. Egypt Air offers multiple flights daily (starts from 500 QAR return) including ones early in the morning from Cairo and late evening from Luxor; making Luxor as a quick weekend escape.
We stopped-by briefly at Wisma Nusantara Cairo for storing our luggages – we would stay here for two days upon our return from Luxor. This hostel is currently managed by the Indonesian students in Al Azhar University. From its guestbook it can be easily noticed that it’s a favorite among Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei visitors and it’s received positive feedbacks. Apart from the hostel, Wisma Nusantara hosts a rentable hall, offices for the Islamic activities as well as accommodations for its management. It may worth your consideration when you are planning to visit Cairo, so you can contribute to its sustainability. Its close location to Ganena Mall, KFC and QNB ATM and a short drive from the airport is also an added plus.
Luxor is a laid back small city, at the opposite contrast to chaotic Cairo. Its population (currently about half a million) is heavily dependent upon tourism. However, large numbers of people also work in agriculture such as sugar cane (clearly visible during the balloon ride and from a short ride from the airport to the city center).
Twenty minute van ride from the airport saw us Nefertiti Hotel , a small budget hotel where its affordable price doesn’t correlate with its strategic location and very excellent staff services; winning accolades from TripAdvisor. Tucked away in the entrance to Luxor Market, Nefertiti also offered an excellent restaurant and incomparable rooftop seating area, overlooking Avenues of the Sphinxes, the Nile and the Theban Hills on the West Bank.
Via the hotel (who also manages Aladin Tours), we’ve booked one-and-half-day tour in Luxor; starting from Karnak Sound and Light Show at 7pm, and then balloon ride and the West Bank in the morning and Karnak Temple in the afternoon.
The sun has just set on the horizon with the Nile and the Theban Hills as backdrops; providing one of the unforgettable memories of sunset watching ever. Still enough time before we would be picked up for the Show in Karnak Temple, we chose to have early dinner in the rooftop; tasting what Egyptian Authentic Bedouin cuisines like. Camel meat dish, Egyptian style omelette, mixed grill, and umm ali were probably representable
The Show, in English, starts at 7pm. Karnak Temple is located about 3km north of Luxor city center. In the past, and we can see it today, Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple are connected by the Avenue of the Sphinxes. Some 1,350 sphinx statues are thought once to have flanked the path. Unfortunately this path is not well maintained the way I see it.
The show, which last for about one and half an hour, tells the history of Thebes and of the Pharaohs who built, extended the temple. Images of the Pharaoh were projected on the temple wall, accompanied by narration of the history of Luxor and the temple. Looking at the massive, grand temple in the dark, illuminated by the light of full moon above us seemed to throw us centuries or thousands years ago. The magical feeling of walking side-by-side to the floodlit 134 gigantic columns inside the Hypostyle Hall was indescribable.
Upon passing through the fallen obelisk (one of the three remaining obelisks in Egypt), visitors were escorted to seating areas by the Sacred Lake for the final history-telling show. That made up our fourth day!