Twenty-four hours after leaving Sarasota, we arrived in Cairo just before midnight. I had worried that the airport would be deserted at that late hour.
No need to worry. It looked like the middle of the day with people everywhere and lines at every step of the arrival process. We got our luggage, went through customs (twice-I never understood the difference between the two), paid for our visas and headed to the hotel.
Even though it was after 1AM, the roads were busy. Instead of rush hours, Cairo’s twenty-two million residents cause what they call “rush day.” Our driver told us we were lucky to be on the road during one of the few slower times.
After a welcome night’s sleep in a comfortable bed, we were ready to explore Cairo. Checking out the view from our hotel room, we saw the outdoor dining area where we would have breakfast.
The breakfast buffet was huge. You could get just about anything you wanted, including a whole counter of different kinds of grilled vegetables. Who knew grilled vegetables could taste so great in the morning.
Walking Around Cairo
We spent the afternoon exploring attractions within walking distance of our hotel. Crossing the busy streets was a bit stressful-no pedestrian crossings or lights and lots of cars. We were thrilled when Hammadan, a worker at our hotel, recognized us on the street and came over to share his love of Cairo.
The first thing he showed us was how to cross the street.The trick is to hold your hand up high, walk slowly, look at the drivers and give two thumbs up when you are successfully on the other side.
The Cairo Tower is considered Cairo’s second most famous landmark after the Pyramids. Located on Gezira Island in the Nile River, it was built in 1961. The plaque outside the tower said it was built to recognize Egypt’s resistance, revolutions and pride.
The rest of the story is that Nasser built it as a rebuke to the US government. The US had given him money with the intent of stopping African independence movements. As a public rebuke to the US for attempting to bribe him, Nasser transferred all of the funds to the Egyptian government to build the tower.
A beautiful banyan tree greeted us at the entrance to the tower. According to a man photographing his family in front of the tree, the two-hundred-year-old tree is the oldest in Egypt.
From the observation deck at the top of the 614-feet-tall tower, we saw beautiful views of Cairo.
We were excited to see The Great Pyramid of Giza in the distance.
We are here during the final days of Ramadan, which started on March 23.
The holiest month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan celebrates the Muslim belief that the archangel Gabriel descended from the heavens and revealed the Message to the Prophet Muhammad.
Hanging traditional Egyptian lanterns is a popular way to decorate for Ramadan. Once I knew that, I noticed the beautiful lanterns everywhere.
Jean and I went to the outdoor shisha lounge for a glass of wine before leaving for our evening river cruise. After enjoying the wonderful smells coming from the area the night before, we were curious about how it worked. Shisha is a way of smoking tobacco through a bowl with an attached hose. It was interesting to watch the waiters set up and refill the pipes.
Nile River Cruise
Staying flexible and keeping an open mind help to ensure a positive adventure. We practiced those skills on our Nile River dinner cruise tonight. The day before our cruise we learned it would be shorter and start later than we expected. Our cruise tour provider explained that Ramadan affected the timing.
In spite of the shorter, later-than-expected night and less than impressive entertainment, we had a fabulous time. The great food, balmy night and beautiful views from the top of the boat contributed to a great evening.
As so often happens, the people made the evening special. Meeting friendly and gracious Egyptians was the best part of the evening. As we waited to board the ship, a number of young women in abayas and hijabs, the traditional dress that covers them head to toe, walked over to us, shook our hands and warmly welcomed us.
Jalai Jai, our driver to the cruise was delightful. He spoke no English and I knew just two words of Arabic. And only one of my two words was useful for our conversation. Thanks to Google Translate, we communicated and learned about each other’s lives. I was thankful for the microphone function because most of our communication was in the car while he was driving in the crazy Cairo traffic. Learning about him and his family and sharing pictures was such a treat.
The evening wasn’t exactly what we expected, but we had fun..