Coptic Cairo, Citadel, Egyptian Museum: Day 1

I started the day with a continental breakfast of sausages, croissant, scrambled eggs, omelet, banana, coffee, and this super delicious Egyptian pie sweetened with molasses. I like to try a little bit of everything in small portions but ate the whole of this pie with no regret. It reminds me of eating baklava – the flakiness of the phyllo dough without the nuts. It’s not as sweet as some of the baklavas I’ve tried but the touch of molasses really brought it together. You could also eat this with tahini, which I might try if it’s available next time.

After breakfast, I started the day in Coptic Cairo where the religious complexes are. It was confusing to navigate but the local people really tried to understand my questions and help give directions. Coptic Cairo (or Old Cairo) was about 20 minutes by taxi from Zamalek. So much history surrounds this place and although 2 hours was adequate I’d recommend learning about this place through books prior to coming. I wished I did because there were so many things to see and learn. Don’t miss the Coptic Museum because I saw the most ancient book of Psalms! No pictures were allowed but imagine the history! I can’t give this place justice with my words- it’s simply a fabulous place rich with history.

From Coptic Cairo, the Hanging Church was next. It’s also referred to as the Suspended Church. The inside is beautiful (I love churches) and the roof inside, which is made of wood, was made in the shape of Noah’s ark.

A short taxi ride from the Hanging Church to the Saladin Citadel of Cairo will transport you from ancient churches to a medieval Islamic period. It is a preserved site with mosques and museums. I read that this was built by Saladin to protect from its invasion by European crusaders armies. There is a lookout that provides you a view of the city in a hazy, hot background. The Police Museum was closed at the time when I attempted to visit. I didn’t try again before leaving the Citadel but I don’t regret this decision at all.

The last stop of the day was the Egyptian Museum, which is a short taxi ride from the Citadel. For 300 Egyptian Pounds (LE), you can enter the Museum plus the Mummies room. Opt for this because the Mummies room, while kind of different, was exciting to see. I didn’t opt for taking pictures, but be aware that even if you paid to take pictures, you can’t take photos in the Mummies room. The King Tut room was also very interesting and it wowed me that this boy-king had so much power in his young years.

Today was productive and hot. I was able to semi perfect the use of a hijab, which I’m glad because I lost my hat (first day mistake). Thankfully, I brought a scarf and that was extremely helpful in the hot sun. From the Egyptian Museum, I headed back to Zamalek – about a 10 minute taxi ride feeling super thirsty and tired.

Several notes to pass along:

1. Taking a taxi – definitely look for the white/black taxi and make sure the meter is turned on and it works. I avoided getting a taxi from the hotel bellman because that was more expensive. An example was 80-100 LE (Egyptian Pounds) if the hotel procured a taxi but only 40 LE if I flagged it down outside the hotel.

2. Taxi drivers are business people who need to earn a living, so graciously and politely decline their exorbitant offers to ride with them for a certain amount of money. I kept reminding myself that they need the money and job, but I also need to stay on budget. Once, I left the taxi because the driver said the meter works but then it suddenly didn’t.

3. I thought it was a bit of a challenge to flag a black/white taxi, especially outside of the Coptic Cairo. Locals would approach me trying to secure a taxi ride for me for a certain price. I was able to get a taxi fairly easily outside the Citadel and the Egyptian Museum.

4. The museums I visited today only accept local currency for entrance fees. No credit card. Security going in/out will check your bags and only 1 place in the Coptic Cairo required to see passports and I only provided copies to show. I actually don’t know why that was necessary.

5. I observed that while English seemed to be a language that was familiar to the local ears it was not easily understood. I found myself repeating a question a few times before receiving an answer or referred to another person.

6. While the people are helpful, some were helpful but expecting a bit of compensation. For example, in the mosque inside Citadel, the person “guarding” it got my shoes out and ready to put back on, but also didn’t fail to repeat “give money to mosque”. I fumbled for 1 or 2 LEs and realized the smaller bill on me was $1. Another example was a local man tried to get me to move away from the taxi driver with exaggerated price, walked me over across the street, and led to a souvenir shop with signs “priced fairly”. Again, while the intention was good and not malicious (taxi from this shop to Zamalek was 10 LE vs. 40 LE outside the Egyptian Museum which was across the street!), just be cautious and polite at the same time.

7. Last point for the day, I thought the people of this beautiful country are friendly and helpful. They respond to greetings and they smile back. Once, an Egyptian family visiting the mosque in Citadel asked to take a picture with me when they found out I am from the US. I also thought greeting me Aloha when I tell them I’m from the US was super cute. Yes, aloha to all!

Tomorrow, a guided private tour to the Giza, Sphinx, and Valley of the Kings.

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