The Russian Plane Crash
First, there was the terrible Russian plane crash on the Sinai, which happened about a week before we were to leave for Cairo. We live in a bit of a bubble here both at the school and at home and in the community. English papers exist but they are hard to come by so there is the BBC World News on tv and internet info. I read the Globe online daily and the Guardian when I think of it but that is it. The plane crash did not have nearly the impact emotionally one would have expected. There wasn’t even any real discussion at school.
Travelling and Accommodations
So off we went to Cairo on the train. It departed on the minute and arrived in Cairo early! When we returned, same thing. The travelling went tickety boo. That was one relief.
The other was our hotel. We avoided the big, monster international hotels and stayed at an unusual downtown place called the Hotel Talisman de Charme. We were dropped off by our taxi on Talaat Harb Street and told to walk down this alley, turn right into an unmarked building and take this creaky old elevator up to the 5th floor and all would be well. Ok then, no problem. Trust in the Lord and your local friendly Egyptians.
All 24 rooms were on one floor. We were given a suite even though we reserved an ordinary room, which was a treat. It was clean as a whistle with a new bathroom. The colours were exotic and Egyptian with beautiful pieces of original art on the walls. We loved it. We were also the only patrons in the place. That was a little strange. I tried not to think of The Shining, Stephen King and his books and the demonic Jack Nicholson.
And then the next morning we emerged from our room to find the hotel grande dame sitting and watching us as walked down the hall to breakfast. She was well made up, maybe seventy-five years old, Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey keeping a watchful eye over the proceedings. Judy was worried that her face would crack when she smiled.
Of Papyrus, Snake Oil and Magical Lanterns
Sunday afternoon and evening and all day Monday and Monday evening we were on our own. We just wandered. We had been warned that the Egyptian merchants were very aggressive, trying to lure you into their shops. And we were to simply keep on walking, oblivious to their blandishments ( I always wanted to use that word!).
That was the theory. The reality is that we got fished in not once, not twice but three times!
Here is the thing. Never stand around in the middle of a crowded Cairo street looking befuddled and, shall we say, non Egyptian. You might as well be wearing a tee shirt that says “Sitting Duck”.
So there we were. Downtown Cairo, Population twenty three million people give or take. Trying to find a restaurant called Felfella with very dubious directions. This very friendly fellow with bad teeth asks us my favourite Cairo question:
“Where are you from?”
“We are from Canada.”
“ Great. My favourite country.”
“ English or French?”
Anyway, he agrees to lead us to the restaurant. But as we get close to the restaurant street, he says; “ Let me show you my brother in law’s shop. You’ll love it. He sells real papyrus.”
Even with four alarm fire bells going off in our heads, we head off down a little side street and into a tiny shop full of art on papyrus sheets. Many of them are beautiful. The owner is full of enthusiasm, sending out for cups of tea, asking us to sit down and stay a while. We spend a good half hour looking at various pieces of art. We send him outside. We talk. We see what we want. Judy (master negotiator) haggles like crazy. She brings the guy down to 425 LE from 770 LE for two pieces and he finally gives in. We walk out the door, looking at each other and thinking: “ That was great but exhausting. Have we just been had?”
So we headed off, still not sure where the restaurant was and, what do you know, another new friend finds us, shows us where the food emporium is and…
“Would you like to see my family’s perfume shop? Everything in it comes from our 150 acre farm out in the country.”
“ Sure, we will have a quick look.”
Fifteen minutes later, Judy walks out with a little bottle of lotus oil, “ the ancient flower of Egypt” minus eighty pounds. We call it snake oil now. Oh man. And then we finally made it to the restaurant! Which was great…darkish inside with stone walls, bird cages filled with budgies and doves, fish tanks with turtles, professional waiters in their fifties, and great food. This was our reward for our back alley adventures. And only the start.