11 – Navigating Cairo

9th Dec, 0040hrs, New Palace Hotel, Cairo
The problem with this hotel room is that it is a bit cold since the underside of the two doorways that lead out to the balcony are not sealed. This also means that mosquitoes are attracted to the warmer room and somehow find their way in. Add to that the fact that it will be way too cold if I do switch on the fan, the end result is that I am mosquito food tonight.

I’ve taken to all sorts of ways to carry my maps around to help me navigate the streets of Cairo. I have a tourist map in my pouch, cartoonish but all the street names are there. I don’t want to lug my thick LP around, so i’m taking pics of the maps i need with my digicam. I also occasionally bring my netbook. I’ve gotten access to a softcopy Egypt guide thanks to a traveller i met and i refer to it on my netbook.

The first order of the day would be to visit the Sudanese embassy. With my Letter of Introduction tightly grasped in my hand, I headed down Midan Tahrir. This was the first time I was in Downtown proper, all the while I have been at the northern end around Midan Arabi where this hotel is. Needless to say I got lost, which would be a common occurence over the next couple of days. The Sudanese embassy is a nondescript office. I got in queue, filled up my app with 2 photos, 2 copies of passport, 2 copies of app form, 1 Letter of Introduction and 100 USD. “Come back next day at 10am”. Phew, relief as I’ll get the visa within 24 hours. I’ve heard other nationalities wait really long for theirs. Went back to hotel via the Metro (Sadat to Attaba). The good thing about the metro is that it is clear and non-confusing and only 1 EGP any distance. Much less stressful than riding on the Cairo roads in my opinion.

Cairo roads: I’m going to digress a little and talk about the roads. There are always traffic jams. I have taken photos where cars are locked bumper to bumper and everyone is just honking away. The other thing is that no one really follows traffic lights. Cars criss cross junctions and turn into side lanes. Once in a while you have a policeman trying to control traffic at a 4-way junction. Trying to cross the road is like playing frogger. Whenever there is an opening, jump through. The cars (most of them) slow down for you. What i do is not hesitate and just go, sticking down my palm like a primary school kid crossing the road. After a while, it comes naturally.

Around 1pm, off I go again, this time to Islamic Cairo. It is around a 2.5km walk down from Attaba Metro exit where 26th of July ends and Al Azhar road begins. The crowd changes as I walked from Downtown area to Islamic Cairo. Roads get more haphazard. New smells greet me, and the downtown buildings give way to minarets and arches. Found the famed Al-Azhar university and mosque. It’s the second oldest continuously running uni in the world. Wandered into the university and even into the buildings. It feels very much like any other uni out there. There’s a lot of foreign students too, judging by the number of non-Egyptian faces. Went into the mosque, did my Asar there, and just sat around for a bit admiring the architecture.

After that, crossed the road to check out Khan Al-Khalili. It was all tourists being badgered by vendors. So after a half dozen “laa’ shukran”s, i changed direction and headed south instead. I’ve decided the best way is to do a no thank you and smile. Or if it’s an obvious overpriced knick knack i dont need, just add a wink and walk off. Found myself on the road leading to the twin minareted Bab Zuwayla gate. The whole stretch was filled with locals shopping and buying stuff. After which, realised it was already dark, and despite there being a ton more things to see here, I decided to call it a day and head back.

Tomorrow’s (8th Dec) agenda would be getting my train tix, going back to the Sudan embassy, and the pyramids. Signing off: Red (aka mosquito food)

ps. if you are reading this from facebook. Do take a look at the actual blog at http://furiouspanda.blogspot.com as well. The header pic is lovely, and the videos actually work over there.

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