Letters from Cairo III: Abou el-Sid, traffic and ancient artifacts

Abou el-Sid is located in Zamalek along the Sharia 26th of July. The doorman for the hotel hailed a cab for us (and got a bit of baksheesh for that, I don’t know if that was right), and negotiated an overpriced fee. :-)

The traffic is seeming more and more what people warn that Cairo traffic will be like. Previously, we’ve felt that despite the messiness of the picture, things have been managable. Going across the Nile on 26th of July bridge definately did not feel that way. The view of the Nile was stunning, though. Through the smog, we could make out the Cairo World Trade Center (picture is coming) and touristy pleasure boats. The music from the cruises was practically so loud that through the smog, we could practically hear them longer than we could see them.

The driver didn’t know where the restaurant was, so we got an introduction to Cairo asking for directions: The cab will stop, the driver will yell “Asalamu Alayikum, do you know where Abou el-Sid is?” out of the window at unsuspecting bystanders until he gets a response. We got there in the end, though!

Abou el-Sid was a very cool place (although Sarah found it too trendy). It’s namesake (and probably founder) is depicted on the menu and in fresces on the wall. Wearing a big mustache, a red fez, matching tie and suit, he invokes a colonial area Egypt. The place is decorated much in the same style. The patrons can roughly be divided into three: Typical Caireenes (we saw a party with three women wearing Nikab – the dress that covers everything except the eyes), trendy caireenes, like four young women out for a night at the time, and foreigners. The crowd is not touristy at all, you can expect the European-looking guy listening to his Ipod while smoking a Sheesha to talk on his phone in English, only to order another beer in fluent arabic.

Abou el-Sid

The food was good. Expensive by Cairo standards, dirt cheap by Norwegian.

We felt up for another adventure, so we decided to walk home. Abou el-Sid is right next to the 26th of July bridge, and like all Cairo bridges, it has a good sidewalk. Across the bridge is a Metro-station (I don’t remember which one), one stop on which will take you to Orabi, which is 5 minutes walk from our hotel. However, there were two things we hadn’t counted on: The dreaded Corniche el-Nil, and the Eid il-Fitr crowds.

8th October Bridge

We followed Corniche el-Nil south, away from our hotel, before we were finally able to cross the street by the 8th October bridge. The whole side of the Nile was packed with people, street vendors, people giving away flowers or corn on the cob (in return for an expectation of Baksheesh, of course). Sarah says I don’t know how to say “La’ Shookran” right, so it was only when she said it that the boy pushing the flowers in our face backed off.

Crossing Corniche el-Nil by the 8th October bridge faces us with another problem: The square-which-name-we-can-never-remember-but-that-we’re-unable-to-cross! We finally gave in when a taxi pulled up, honked and asked if we wanted a ride.

The taxi didn’t know where the Victoria hotel was, so I had to direct him. This whole trip had been without a map, so I felt pretty cool when I said: “Sharia Ramsees to Orabi Metro station, down Sharia Orabi and the first to your left. Left again on el-Gomhoyyra and we’re there”. Worked like a charm.

And we slept like babies.

Next morning, my navigation skills failed me. Instead of turning north towards Midan Ramsees and Mubarak station, we turned south towards Ataba station. However, we successfully navigated the (excellent, might I add) subway system to Sadat station by Midan Tahrir. The exit lead directly up to our next destination: The egyptian museum of antiques.

We ran into our friend Said, who’d taken us to the pyramids yesterday, in exactly the same spot as before. We didn’t notice us at first, but he shouted for our attention. By now, we have gotten pretty used to the “hello, my friend” shouts from touts and taxi drivers in Cairo, so it took a while before we found him. Based on his smile when he saw us, he wasn’t unhappy with yesterday’s tip after all.

Museum from Midan Tahrir

The security of the museum was the first thing that immidately struck me. On the 200 meter walk along the only road up the the museum (which is now bordered on one side by construction work), there were about 15 police officers, including one with a helmet, assault gear and a big stationary shield he was hiding behind. The entrace to the Museum complex has an X-ray + metal detector (at here, they actually pay attention to whether you beep or not, I was patted down). Sarah brough her little “multi-tool gadget”, which ws described by the X-ray operator as “a big knife”. It’s like a modern version of the Swiss army knife. The two police officers who instructed us to get it out were quite fascinated by the little gadget, too! Small observation: I think they at first wanted baksheesh to let us go, but instead, we opened the bag to show them the contents. The didn’t seem unhappy at the result.

Sarah by the Egyptian Museum police checkpoint

This let us into the garden in front of the museum, a surprisingly small area filled with tourist and tourist police. After buying a ticket to the museum proper, check-in our camera (damned!) and going through a second set of metal-detectors + X-ray, we were in.

I found the museum very interesting, but most of what’s good there is already in guidebooks, so I will leave that to better writers on egyptology. A few notes, though: Yes, the tomb of Tuthankamon really is amazing. It is a must see. The artwork and just the sheer amount of gold was jaw-dropping. Easily worth the whole enterance fee. We also paid an extra LE 100 (!) to visit the mummy-room with about 10 actual mummies. The detail on the long dead-corpses were amazing. You could see the state of their teeth (seems like ancient egypt had pretty good dental health), and the head that killed Seqenenre Taa II (150-1539 BC, 17th or 18th dynasty, I think) while he was rebelling against the invading Hyksos tribes of the second intermediate period. The mummy room has a feint smell of death to it, and it was probably the best experience of the whole museum.

We staggered through the rest of the museum, and noted as the guidebook said that the collection is sadly underlabeled. Many items only have a number, some have several, and many have none. Only a fraction of the artifacts has a text describing it, and many of these didn’t have a number (like the Ramsees III/Horus/Set statue (the only one I could find of Set, by the way) in room 14). If you go to the museum, be sure to bring a guide or a guidebook.

Johannes in front of the Egyptian Antiquities Museum

Going back, we wanted to try out At-Tabia ad-Dumyati again. We found a taxi on our way out the approach to the museum. Ahmed, the driver had to negotiate quite a bit with the guards to get through the museum area, showing papers and whatnot. As far as I could tell, no money exchanged hands, though.

Ahmed gave us probably the oldest spiel in the playbook. The guidebooks advice from discussing price before you get out of the taxi, which I wanted to try, we told him to go to Sharia Orabi (I even managed to say “waHid wa Talateen Sharia Orabi”, Orabi Street number 31!) However, as Ahmed later pointed out, we hadn’t specified Sharia Orabi in the Ramsees area, instead of Sharia Orabi in Mohandessin. Actually, we had, but he’d ignored us, driven across Gezira and ended up on the west bank before we could correct the error. He felt that LE 10 was too little for the trip we had (although I am pretty sure it was right, even with the detour). We haggled for a while, and when he seemed genuinely angry, we gave him the 20 pound and were done with it. Safe to say, we won’t take Ahmed up on his offer to drive us to Alexandria on Friday!

At the Dumyati, we ran into Muhammed from the first day again. He recognized us and we had a nice chat. I think Dumyati-Mohammed is probably the most honest seeming person we’ve met in Cairo, so it is nice with a safe face. The food was excellent and cheap again.

Sarah wanted to stop by a bakery from the notebook (which turned out to be closed because of Eid), and navigating back to the hotel, I made the same damned mistake on al-Gohmorrya, turning south instead of north. That street is extremely confusing. We ended up back at Ataba station, and had to navigate our way back.

By now, we’re shot from all the walking (and probably from all the polution), so we’re going to have a quiet night. We are accomplishing much less per day that I thought we would. Tomorrow, we should get up early, go Khan al-Khalili and see Islamic Cairo.

Oh, and the hotel clerk said that a driver had stopped by and said that he was going to pick us up for Saqqara and the pyramids tomorrow. She said the driver’s name was Said. Strange…. We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings.

About Johannes Brodwall

Johannes is Principal Software Engineer in SopraSteria. In his spare time he likes to coach teams and developers on better coding, collaboration, planning and product understanding.
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