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17 May 2008

being a host is tough work, part I

having three guests in my apartment is pretty tough business. TheMom arrived on-time wednesday afternoon as did TheJay and TheJaysWife early thursday morning. wednesday night, i took TheMom out with TheMech and TheSiteLead to a restaurant we know that has good steaks. after that, we took her to a local bar that is kind of fun just to watch the people who come in. we went home, i put mom to bed, and then went to the airport at 3:00AM to get TheJay and TheJaysWife (from now on referred to as TheRachel). we got back to the apartment, and i showed them to their room where the put their bags. TheRachel was smart enough to go to bed almost immediately, but TheJay and i stayed up throwing a few back 'til about 5AM, catching up, you know. TheDriver insisted on making breakfast for everyone in the morning, so i invited him to crash on the couch instead of driving all the way home and back. TheJay wanted to wake up "a bit" late because he knew he'd be a grouch all day if he didn't get sleep and had to walk all over cairo. i woke up around 9:30 and TheDriver had already gone to the store to get bread and picked up TheMom's missing bag from the lobby. he made tahina, foul, and two fried eggs. the breakfast was definitely an amazing start to the day. he really hooked us up.

we got a later start than i had planned for, but it all turned out well. i try to prepare for the unexpected as much as possible. in this case, the "unexpectable" would be that TheJay and TheRachel would want to spend most of the day at the museum, this why i wanted to leave early. our itinerary included first taking the cairo metro about 4 blocks from our apartment to the sadat station in downtown, about 4 blocks from the cairo museum. after we were done there, we were going to walk back to sadat station, where we would transfer to another line that took us two stops along to the ataba station. there we would grab a "black & white" = scary, rundown, yet cheap, cabs with non-english-speaking drivers who have no clue where they are going... ever. we would take that to khan el khalili, the famous market/souvenir shopping tourist trap area.

the train to downtown was uneventful, but it shaves about an hour off the trip during rush hour, plus it only costs $0.18/person, as far as you want to go including connections. the museum was interesting. i don't know what i had expected, having not yet been there myself. lots of sarcophagi, lots of gold and jewelry, lots of hieroglyphs. the one thing that did impress me was the "nesting doll" nature of the ancient pharaohs. there were HUGE wooden sarcophagi, maybe 12-14 feet long, that held another slightly smaller one inside that, in turn held another, which finally encased the most elaborately decorated and ornamented "coffin". crazy redundancy.

after the museum, we went to khan el khalili, the famous market place in cairo. there are lots of little walking streets where vendors always willing to "give you good price". it's a tourist trap full of over-priced souvenirs but certainly something to see. typically, you can haggle them down to a fairly decent price, and be done with them. as soon as we got out of the car, a random guy directed us to the tunnel that takes us to the "tourist" side of khan. we said he worked for an art studio. we told him we might think about checking it out on the way out. we stopped at a cafe to rest, hoping to see the prayer time at the big mosque, but we timed it so imperfectly that we missed it. my guests had their first sheesha experience at that cafe as we watched a little kid chase cats around with a stick. as we were leaving, we ran into our art studio guy. we followed him through the back alleys of the "egyptian" side of khan to a small shop where we saw "authentic" mother-of-pearl game boards and trinket boxes being made. when we were done there, he invited us to the art studio just to take a look. we followed him further along smaller and winding alleys until we came to a very non-descript door (small picture). this is the entrance to the art studio. it was looking a bit shady until we stepped inside. the guy in the photo is the artist, ahmed fatih, who does all the work. the guy we met on the street basically finds people and drags them to the studio since it is so far out of the way. ahmed paints his work on leather. we were absolutely amazed at the work he does. the studio is clean, and well laid out. we were offered tea and soft drinks while we looked around. after much perusing, i ended up buying a white rabbit pelt with a cartoony shpinx and pyramid on it for TheNephew, a larger pharoah with black skin on brown leather, and an even larger pharoah with night lighting. i'll get photos of those and post them. they are beautiful. and we haggled him from LE 1000 (~$180) to LE 800 (~$145). TheJay and TheRachel bought one or two, and we ALL felt we got a great deal, and had a great time seeing the unseen side of khan.

after the khan, we went back to the apartment for a short nap. we took the train to downtown cairo where TheDriver and his fiance picked us up and took us to an awesome egyptian restaurant called kebobgy at the sofitel gezira hotel. the restaurant is right on the nile, and the food was amazing. we got several mixed grills which they bring out on a portable oven that sits on your table. after dinner, we took a felucca ride. that link shows a NORMAL felucca, what i thought we were going to do, and i'll have to do sometime in the future. TheDriver is our bargainer, so he arranged for the boat. what we got a was a kind of obnoxiously loud and christmas-light adorned motorboat. they have a generator running at the back of the boat to power the christmas lights and the bumping car stereo system they have setup to blare loud egyptian music. instead of a peaceful and possibly romantic (for TheJay and The Rachel) ride on the nile, we had an impromptu dance party. i'm not sure exactly what dance move i'm trying to pull off in that pic, but i promise, i'll try my best never to do it again. and that was ... wednesday and thursday. more in the next post.

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