Memories of Misr - Part 2
The next day was Friday – the day of Jumu’ah or as the Egyptians say, Ghumah. The plan was to offer the prayer at the famous Al-Azhar Mosque. As we were getting ready that morning, we received a most welcome phone call. The airline had found my suitcase. They confirmed the address for delivery, but I really didn’t expect them to deliver until the next day.
The Al-Azhar Mosque was a structure of several domes and minarets with a central courtyard. After the prayer, we took a few pictures in the courtyard as well as inside the mosque. It was spacious and quite beautiful inside. Then it was on to the Khan El-Khalili souk, a market of innumerable twists and turns. You could easily get lost there if you didn’t keep track of where you were. It was packed with people and there were so many different kinds of merchandise that my head was spinning. It reminded me a bit of the Kapali Carsi, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.
We bargained for a few items, mostly souvenirs and gifts to bring back. After that we headed for home, glad to be back in the cool confines of an air-conditioned room and out of the heat. While I was relaxing, I got delightful news. A driver from the airline was downstairs with my missing suitcase. I was very happy as you can imagine. The next day was Saturday. My husband and I made our first foray into the city on our own. We took an Uber to the Egyptian Museum. The two floors we explored were filled with discoveries by archaeologists over the years. There were mummies galore, and thousands of artifacts found in the tombs and from other excavations. It was amazing to think how old they were.
After returning home and having lunch, we set off for Azhar Park. The amount of greenery there was quite astonishing. It was a beautiful, breathtaking place to relax in but unfortunately, at that time of the year it was too hot. That evening, we met our tour guide. She took us on our first trip: a dinner cruise on the Nile. I’ve read so much about the Nile that it was wonderful to finally set eyes on this famous river. It was a two-hour cruise just sailing along the river. Since it was night, there wasn’t much to see except enjoy the motion of the boat as it wended its way along the river. After the dinner, we stood on deck looking out at the dark waters and the brilliant lights winking from the shore.
The next morning, our tour guide took us to a few other historical places – the Alabaster Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Cairo Citadel which was first commissioned by Salahuddin Ayyubi or Saladin as he was popularly known in the west, and the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As. Since we wanted to experience a boat ride on the Nile during the day, we went on an enjoyable felucca ride next. The felucca is a sailboat that is lateen rigged. We drifted slowly over the waters as we stared out at the buildings around the river’s edge. Next on the itinerary was lunch and then our visit to the Giza Pyramids. The three pyramids, built over two thousand years ago, were awe inspiring. We took some pictures before going on a camel ride.
I had seen camels at close quarters before but had never been atop one. I was a bit nervous to begin but was reassured by the presence of the camel guides. I was glad that I went on that ride. I absolutely loved it. Perched high atop the animal’s back, walking over the dips in the Western Desert, is an experience that I’ll never forget.
But the adventure wasn’t over yet. The next day we set off with our tour guide for Alexandria, a three-hour car ride from Cairo. The first place we visited was the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, a historical archaeological site dating back to 2nd century AD. This was during the Greco Roman period in Egypt. It was mind boggling to think how old this place was. The underground necropolis consisted of three levels of burial chambers which were accidentally discovered in the early 20th century when a donkey cart fell into a pit. Just imagine, it had remained hidden and undisturbed for almost two millennia.
Next, we visited Pompey’s Pillar, a Roman triumphal column built in 297 AD to commemorate the victory of Roman emperor Diocletian over an Alexandrian revolt. It was not actually built during the time of Pompey, the famous Roman leader. After that, it was on to the Alexandria Library, a beautifully designed building which is also a great research center. Lunch was next and then a walk along the promenade of the Mediterranean Sea. Seeing the sea was the highlight of our visit to Alexandria. Along the promenade was the Citadel of Qaitbay, a 15th century defensive fortress. We returned to Cairo tired but happy that evening.