Travel Tales 4 - Back To Cairo

Travel Tales
by Sherry Reardon
copyright 1996


So, we arrived in Cairo around midnight... I wonder if maybe there isn't method in their madness, with all our arrivals and departures being very early or very late in the day--at least it avoids the daytime traffic in Cairo, which is really wild and crazy. We checked into the Marriott again and recovered the luggage we had stored there. We had rooms reserved in the towers, but some folks thought they wanted garden rooms instead (thought they would be quieter), so there was an extra delay while they tried to get new rooms. Then the garden rooms turned out to be not quite as nice as the tower rooms, so here we have another example of why you should trust the tour leaders to do the right thing for you...

Anyway, the next day was scheduled for touring. We went to the Cairo Museum and spent the morning there. This is where the treasures of King Tut are on display, but there's also lotsa other cool stuff to see. Some people chose to stay the whole day.

The rest of us had lunch at a little cafe outside the Hilton hotel across the street. I was interested to see "Sisha" on the menu... this is those big water-pipe things you see the guys smoking so much around there. The menu showed "regular" and "special"... I don't know what the difference was :-)

Then we went to Old Cairo. We saw the Citadel, the old palace, and the Mohammed Ali mosque, all of which are on a hill overlooking the city, from which you can see the Pyramids in the distance (through the haze). We were informed that the Mohammed Ali mosque (also known as the Alabaster mosque) was a copy of one in Istanbul. Since we'd all been to Istanbul, we were interested to know which one, but the guide wasn't sure. We guessed Suleyman's. As we left the area, we found one of our group amidst a group of women (college students, I think), who were all singing and clapping and playing zills while she sort of danced in the middle. I'm not really sure how it all started, but it was fun to interact with the locals for a while.

Interacting with the locals at the Citadel.. Photo by Terry Stoleson.

We then went to see some old Coptic churches (Egypt is about 20% Christian) and the old and new synagogue.

That evening we went to see Dina dance. I was especially interested in seeing her, because she was well-known for her funky costumes. Not this time, though. She did do 5 costume changes, but they were all relatively tame compared to what I expected. The first was a bra-and-belt set with a leopard sort of design with rhinestones. The other 4 were all lycra dresses (she has a great body, and obviously likes to show it off). One of the dresses had cutouts with sheer inserts, which seems to be starting a bit of a fashion trend over there. The one weird bit was one dress had a slit *all* the way up the center back, with a rhinestone ball-like object at the top, which was right at her butt. None of us thought it was a place you'd want to call attention to. As for her dancing, it was good, but she seemed to have only 2 emotions: your basic smiling and pleasant, and pain... and there was too much of the latter.


The next day was a free day, and many people opted to go to the bazaar again. One woman I was with was looking for some sequined trim for the bottom of a wedding gown. The guest took us far away from the touristy section of the bazaar, where it was hard to find someone who spoke English to explain what we wanted (her small Arabic dictionary didn't have 'lace trim' in it). She found what she was looking for, but then it was time to start the lengthy bargaining process... so I wandered back to the main part of the bazaar with my Mom. I had heard there were nice caftans and galabayas if you go right outside the Haberdashery, then take the first alley on the left and go down about 3 blocks. So we went in that direction, and we found some very nice hand-made stuff there. We went back by way of the Haberdashery, then took a cab to the hotel.

That evening we went to see Nani perform (for those of you who might be interested, 3 of the 4 major dancers we saw--Amani, Dina, and Nani--were pictured in a recent *Arabesque* magazine). She's a lovely dancer. I think I liked her best, next to Fifi Abdou.

The next day was our last full day in Cairo. The only item on the schedule was a morning class with Ragia Hassan. She came to the hotel, in the nightclub room where Amani performed earlier in our stay. Of course the class was wonderful, with Ragia teaching a new routine with lots of her own funky styling. There was some confusion about the cost of the workshop, but it worked out OK.

The other notable event was getting our costumes from Madame Abla. What we heard in the early afternoon was that they would send a car for us at 5:00; some of the costumes were done and some were not. That made us feel pretty insecure...what if they weren't??? We had to leave very early the next morning! We were waiting anxiously in the hotel lobby at 5:00, and of course the car was on Arabic time, and of course the delay was only feeding our anxieties. Cassandra came by as we were waiting; she had just come from Abla's, and Mme. Abla had assured her she would have all our costumes done that evening. She (Cassandra) said she (Mme. Abla) wouldn't make such a firm statement unless she had a very high degree of confidence in it. I, for one, felt reassured by this. Eventually the car showed up, and took us to Abla's. The best description was probably provided by the one of us whose costume was done last--she was told she would be picked up at 10:00, and as the time went by past 11:00, she decided to go to bed, leaving a message to have her paged when the car arrived. She said it was like being pregnant. The call came in around midnight. She woke up her husband and said 'Honey, it's time!' They stumbled into the car, raced through the city to their destination, where she became the proud owner of a beautiful bouncing turquoise and silver costume.

Some of us were lucky enough to be done at a more reasonable hour. When I returned, it was about dinnertime, and I found my Mom and another tour member (the two of them became fast friends on the trip) in the little 'Tex-Mex' restaurant downstairs in the hotel. When we first arrived, 2 weeks earlier, I had scoffed at it, but now, our last evening in the hotel, a spicy burger and a Margarita seemed like a great way to prepare for our departure early next morning.


Some of the "gang" suggested we all meet for cocktails in the "Top of the Tower" bar that evening, as sort of a "farewell party" on the last evening of our trip, and we all made it there at one time or other (between trips to Abla, etc.) One of the husbands on the trip had gotten his film (about 9 rolls) developed at a local photo place (quality was fine, price was good too) and passed them around for us to look at. We traded addresses. A couple of the guys from the Haberdashery came by with some last- minute deliveries, and they also brought beaded scarves as gifts for everyone on the tour. It was very nice... but no one stayed too late, because we had to get up to have our luggage outside our doors at like 2:30 the next morning. And we still had to pack first.

At Turquoise's recommendation, I had brought along an extra suitcase--a small carry on--to carry the extra stuff I had bought. I actually didn't buy all that much, considering how much great stuff there is over there. I was always concerned about how I was going to carry it all back. But as it was, I really had no trouble packing it all, and I was able to get a couple of hours sleep before our wakeup call.

We checked out of our rooms, had a very early breakfast, and identified our luggage (checked vs. carry-on) before it and we were all loaded on the bus. (Cassandra showed up with the last of the costume pieces from Madame Abla as we were fiddling with the luggage.) We were on our way to the airport as dawn was breaking.

We came back by way of Istanbul, where I felt compelled to check on the exchange rate for Turkish lira. It had gone up from 70,000 to 72,000 to the dollar in the 2 weeks we'd been away. They have nasty inflation there.

We then had the long (but comfortable, same as on the way over) trans-Atlantic flight back to JFK. We all began to split up as we were going through immigration and customs, as we headed for our separate destinations. The only glitch I had (or was aware of) in the process was that they directed my mom to a different line, because she was a Canadian citizen, but then she didn't have the paperwork she needed because I'd filled one out for both of us as a "family unit". When I realized she was taking an awfully long time to make it through, I went back to see what was going on, and they then directed her to come with me, and everything was fine.

Many of us caught each other again for hugs in the terminal before we headed off to our final destinations. My final destination was Connecticut (to stay with my mom a couple of days)--I was really glad I didn't have to go on another plane. But, as I said when I started, all in all it was a wonderful trip. And if any of you ever get a chance to go... go for it!

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Last Modified: 9 Aug 1997