Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 4 - Cairo & The Citadel

Day 4 - Citadel
Well, after an interesting morning trying to settle our bill with the Hotel Reception and them "conveniently" forgetting that we already paid a one night deposit on the room (all I got to say is sketchy accounting practices), we set out on our way to the Citadel in northern Cairo.
Our taxi over to the Citadel was quite entertaining. We got a cab driver that spoke no english, which isn't uncommon here. However, "Citadel" must be ( the english version of the place, and we didn't know what the arabic term was. Our cabbie nodded his head that he understood and started driving away. Well, two blocks later, he pulls over and yells at this nicely dressed man (in a suit and tie) - we assumed he was asking for translation assistance. The nice man (Dr. Rhead as he introduced himself), proceeded to assist us with directions for the cabbie, and also telling us to "pay no more than". Dr. Rhead was a professor of arabic and english at a local university. He even gave us his cell phone number to "call if we need anything"...pretty nice, but we still don't know if there is a catch...
Onward bound, we headed through the diesel choked streets of Cairo destined (we hope) for the Citadel...or at least something to catch our interest.
After thinking we were lost about four times (to us at least), we finally approached an amazing looking structure that HAD to be something...and it was. The Citadel looks and feels like something right out of Assassin's Creed (you know what I am referring to if you play the video game). Stone walls enclose a beautiful Turkish-style mosque(s) on the inside.
The View of the Citadel
The Citadel was built in 1176 AD (or CE to be more politically correct) and gained its fame by housing the Egyptian monarchy for 700 years. Around 1900's, the area was turned over to the military as a fortress. Currently, it is swarming with tourists (after all the Citadel confusion, we should have just jumped onto the back of a 50-person tourist bus). The main feature of Citadel is the mosque built for Mohammed Ali - note, this isn't the Mohammed Ali that we all know ie "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee", but instead an Egyptian monarch from around the mid-1800's. I was a little tentative about heading into the mosque, since I did have my arms and calfs exposed and after my previous mosque experience where I had to fully garb up, but just then, 50 Italian tourists started walking in - some with shorts so small you could see cheeks, and tank tops that left nothing to the imagination. Feeling demure in my capris next to these hoochies, we snuck into the mass and walked in. Of note, this is also a great way to get by the touts that whisper "let me be your guide...for free"...three days, and we have learned that nothing in Egypt is free...
The mosque was absolutely stunning, the Lonely Planet refers to the mosque as an "ugly toad", but I would have to, with my discerning eye for architecture and all. Photos don't do it justice and we were quite content to hang around for well over an hour to take in the domes, stained glass, courtyards and the view of Egypt. Vince also likes walking around without his shoes on, so this helped the situation...From the terrace of the mosque, you have a panoramic view of Cairo, the Nile and the Giza pyramids. Stunning - unfortunately, due to the smog, the photos won't turn out.
The Mohammed Ali Mosque - AKA the Ugly Toad
The View from the Inside the Mosque
The Skyline of Cairo - Note the Pyramids in the center of the Photo (look through the smog!)
Vince on the Terrace - Beautiful Mosques in the Background
The architecture in and around the mosques and the out-buildings was incredible, and are quite well maintained. Vince and I couldn't stop talking about how much it resembled Assassin's Creed - where the Assassin's Headquarters would be, climbing the turrets and minurets, etc. We are totally gaming geeks at heart, and yes, I know it is sad that our reality meets our fantasy/gaming life, but hey - at least you know how we tick. Besides, the video game for Assassin's Creed -Part Two comes out at the end of October, so if you are looking for a subtle (or not so) hint for a Christmas Present for me, well here you go...
The Assassin's Creed Headquarters - Well not really, but imagine climbing the lattice into the entryway on the top...
After visiting the various museums in the Citadel (Military Museum, Police Museum, Royal Museum), I had worked up an appetite and started whining that I wanted something to eat. So we departed for the long walk out to the highway. Once there, we tried negotiating with a few cabbies for a lift back towards our hotel, but all wanted 2.5 times what we had paid to get to the area! I think I was on the fourth taxi, when a white one pulled over. For those that aren't familiar, "black and white" taxis are negotiated rates, and tend to be older and cheaper. The "white" taxis are metered, and are more expensive. Knowing that we were getting hosed by the Black and White cabs, we decided to go for the metered cab, at least the A/C would be nice. We were very hesitant on this, after our experience in Vietnam where they tinkered with the meters so that it quadruple the rate. Needless to say, the ride back was comfortable, and I eagle eyed the meter so bad it was too scared to click away unneccesarily. Funny enough, the cost by the metered cab to get back to the hotel was LESS than any other rate that we had paid in Egypt thus far (and this was probably the furthest). DOOOH!!! We have been had! The worst is when you realize it, and it is two days later...Lessons learned, we gave the nice cabbie a good tip (which is never good enough), and cruised on for a meal...

After getting back to the hotel, we struggled with the millenia old riddle "if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?", except in this case, the riddle was; in Mexico, it is called Montezuma's Revenge - but what is it called in Egypt - King Tut's Wrath? Needless to say, Vince struggled with this riddle for his time on the porcelain throne. Perhaps it was the 3 glasses of bitter tasting fig juice for breakfast that did him in.

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