Thursday, December 29, 2011

Travelogue: Of Pharaohs - Ancient and the Modern

Spinx: A Masterpiece or a Symbol of Tyranny!?

Some Surprises are so Pleasant!
It was all so sudden; got the visa on Friday, booked the ticket on Saturday, and on Sunday morning we were in the CIP lounge of the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi waiting for the Emirates EK-601 to open for boarding! 

While I was babysitting, Urooba was hastily noting the ‘Must Dos’ of Cairo from the internet. Pyramids, Mummies, the Nile Cruise, historical mosques, and Khan El Khalili bazaar were some of the findings while I added Suez Canal, Tanura, and the Coptic Cairo to the list. However, in the subconscious, I was dreaming of watching the rebellious Egyptian youth around the infamous Tahrir square pushing back the remains of the tyranny!
Now We Know How to Travel Light!
Coming Down
With only two hours layover in Dubai, the journey from Karachi to Cairo was smooth except that the flight attendant refused to give Misha the baby bassinet. “She has grown up”, Urooba muttered.
Baby Stroller at Dubai Airport
Not All Taxi Drivers in Cairo are Cons
The frank and amicable Ashraf picked us from the Cairo Airport and took us straight to the Cairo Palace Hotel located in the downtown Cairo. He looked antithesis of those notorious drivers who always want to take you to their uncle’s perfume shop, a typical tourist trap in Cairo! But Ashraf is a common being like us; a hardworking father on one hand who strives to make sure his children get good education and a concerned citizen on the other who spoke high about his presence at Tahrir Square in the toughest of days. 
Was He Really a Salafi?
Despite making his bread and butter from the tourist industry, he was blunt in expressing his dissatisfaction on the disco clubs on the other side of Nile, called Giza. “We Egyptians don’t like that. It is against our values”. 

“Which party you voted for?”, I reacted unbelievingly while looking at the hustle bustle of downtown markets from the cab window. “All my brothers and I are Salafis but we voted for the Freedom and Justice Party, حزب الحرية والعدالة, as there was no candidate of Noor Party in our constituency”, he replied in a firm note.

While familiarizing myself with the emerging political system in Egypt, I was not sure if the clean shaved Ashraf was preempting the imminent Islamist rule, or he was actually one of those Salafis stereotyped in the in-flight newspaper as long-bearded, mustache-less, and women-eaters!

The Football Craze
Cutting through a couple of traffic jams we reached our destination at around 7pm, where the young Muhammad, the football freak, greeted us at the reception. We had already realized that every third Egyptian goes by the name ‘Muhammad’ and every first is a football crazy!

The 11th Hour
After dumping our luggage in the big family room, we took a brief stroll around, basically to have some food. Fool فول and Shawarma were our first meal on the Egyptian land which we had at a local eatery آخر السا عہ or “the 11th Hour” as per Muhammad’s recommendation!
Cairo Palace Hotel
Its Modern Elevator (Reference: Pyramids)
The Cairo Downtown; A View from the Balcony
Lonely as it can be! Down from the Balcony
Tip of the Day; Currency Exchange is easily done at Cairo Airport without the fear of being ripped-off. Before the immigration counter you will notice currency exchange kiosks of big Egyptian banks. For 1000 UAE Dirham, AED, I got 1620 Egyptian Pounds, EGP, against 1635 as quoted on the internet, which translates into just 1% transaction cost. A fair deal indeed! 

These shops happily accept USD, Euro, GBP, AED, SAR, etc on clearly displayed rates.