The statue of Horus at Edfu temple.
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Nile River Cruise and the Temples of Upper Egypt

After 26 hours of travel from Portland through Vancouver B.C. and London, I finally arrived in Cairo late on Christmas night, excited to see Viktoria after four months apart. My time on the ground was short-lived. We woke up the next day and headed back to the airport to embark on a Nile River Cruise of the temples of Upper Egypt.

Visit CascadianAbroad.com for the rest of the story!

The exterior of Abou Tarek Koshary in downtown Cairo. It is the one and only location. The sign states "We have no other branches."
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Abou Tarek Koshari

I was really excited to try the koshari at Abou Tarek, one of the most well-known restaurants in Cairo.

The koshary dish at Abou Tarek. This is a small portion and I had a hard time finishing it.

The koshary dish at Abou Tarek. This is a small portion and I had a hard time finishing it.

Koshari (koshary / kushari) is a typical Egyptian dish. It’s very filling and is originally a peasant/lower class food. It is still very inexpensive (think $1 USD or less) with giant portions. It has rice, macaroni and vermicelli noodles as a base with cooked lentils and chickpeas on top. On top of that is a light, red sauce and fried onions. You can also add a lemon garlic sauce and/or hot sauce. I like both. And koshari is vegan so how exciting is that?

The restaurant is located in a busy area. I took this picture from the second floor looking down at the street where these men were enjoying the national pastime of people watching.

The restaurant is located in a busy area. I took this picture from the second floor looking down at the street where these men were enjoying the national pastime of people watching.

My first koshari was delivered to my house from Zooba; the restaurant also makes a whole grain version with wheat pasta and crushed wheat that I’d like to try. I’ve also had it from the local chain Koshary El Tahrir. But the one at Abou Tarek in downtown Cairo is the best because they make everything fresh, including frying the onions. The crispy onions make it magical.

Takeout from Koshary El Tahrir. This was dinner and then breakfast the next day.

Takeout from Koshary El Tahrir. This was dinner and then breakfast the next day.

I have to admit, the ingredient list of koshari doesn’t sound that impressive, but put all together, it works. I usually have pasta, lentils and red sauce at home so it’s easy to make my own quick version.

Check out the day tours by Emo Tours. Mine included the Museum of Egyptian AntiquitiesCitadel with the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Khan el Khalili Market and a stop at Abou Tarek Koshary.

The Mosque of Muhammad Ali at the Citadel of Cairo.
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Mosque of Muhammad Ali in the Cairo Citadel

One of my city tours included the Cairo Citadel. I didn’t know much about it except that the last time I drove past it was during Eid (one of the religious holidays) and it was packed with people.

I learned that the citadel used to be the city center and was fortified/walled to keep out the Crusaders, who were trying to spread Christianity through a series of religious wars. The walled complex used to be much larger, but was split in two when a major highway was built in the middle of it.

The citadel is now just a site that includes several defunct museums and three mosques, the most prominent of which is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. It was built by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1848 and is not related to the American boxer who took the same name. Side note: Muhammad, Mohamed and Ahmed are very popular names here; parents name boys after the Prophet himself.

It cost about $6 (more or less depending on what the dollar is doing on a given day) to enter the whole site as a foreigner. For locals, the cost is very minimal and as a result, it’s a popular gathering place. No shoes in the courtyard or interior of the mosque, obviously, but I didn’t have to cover my head. I wore long pants and a t-shirt and had no problems. It was a worthwhile trip to see the most recognizable white alabaster mosque in the “City of a Thousand Minarets.”

Thanks Wikipedia for details about the mosque.

Check out the day tours by Emo Tours. Mine included the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Citadel with the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Khan el Khalili Market and a stop at Abou Tarek Koshary.


First glimpse of the mosque as it sits on top of the city. I believe there is a Holy Quran in the driver’s car as well!

First glimpse of the mosque as it sits on top of the city. I believe there is a Holy Quran in the driver’s car as well!


Approaching the walls of the Cairo Citadel. The mosque sits at the summit of the walled city.

Approaching the walls of the Cairo Citadel. The mosque sits at the summit of the walled city.


A group of women near the mosque. Coming to the Citadel is quite a social/spiritual event, especially during holidays and holy days.

A group of women near the mosque. Coming to the Citadel is quite a social/spiritual event, especially during holidays and holy days.


The limestone exterior and iron windows. The mosque is built in the Ottoman/Turk style.

The limestone exterior and iron windows. The mosque is built in the Ottoman/Turk style.


Looking up at one of the minarets. The mosque is one of the most easily recognizable in Cairo.

Looking up at one of the minarets. The mosque is one of the most easily recognizable in Cairo.


The alabaster covered courtyard of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.

The alabaster covered courtyard of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.


Standing in the courtyard of the mosque and the clock tower. The clock tower was a gift from King Louis Philippe of France in 1845 and my guide said it was a bad gift because the tower didn’t have lasting power and started crumbling (see the scaffolding around it?).

Standing in the courtyard of the mosque and the clock tower. The clock tower was a gift from King Louis Philippe of France in 1845 and my guide said it was a bad gift because the tower didn’t have lasting power and started crumbling (see the scaffolding around it?).


The interior of the mosque. My guide mentioned that it is distinctive because of its red carpet. People were relaxing and hanging out. It was in between prayer times.

The interior of the mosque. My guide mentioned that it is distinctive because of its red carpet. People were relaxing and hanging out. It was in between prayer times.


The

The “minbar” of the mosque (center left) is where the prayer leader sits and leads prayer and service.


Walking out the door to views of the gardens and city of Cairo.

Walking out the door to views of the gardens and city of Cairo.


Corridor of arches along the exterior of the mosque.

Corridor of arches along the exterior of the mosque.


Views of Cairo from the top of the Citadel. Can you spot the two largest Pyramids of Giza in the haze?

Views of Cairo from the top of the Citadel. Can you spot the two largest Pyramids of Giza in the haze?


It’s me!

It’s me!


Exterior view from the gardens.

Exterior view from the gardens.


A peek of the green-domed Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque behind Muhammad Ali.

A peek of the green-domed Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque behind Muhammad Ali.


The crescent moon and star, symbol of Islam, sits on top of one of the white domes.

The crescent moon and star, symbol of Islam, sits on top of one of the white domes.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt
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Bibliotheca Alexandrina: One of the Coolest Libraries in the World

I had first read about the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in one of those Buzzfeed articles about beautiful libraries around the world. When I think of beautiful libraries, I imagine open yet cozy spaces with shelves of jewel toned book spines with gold script and overstuffed chairs. Even more so for a library with a location home to an ancient civilization.

But on my trip to Alexandria, I discovered an ultra-modern facility built in 2002. UNESCO supported the rebuilding of the library and held a design contest. The exterior of the building has writing from 120 different world scripts.

There was an ancient library called the Library of Alexandria, but it was destroyed in several fires and sieges by Julius Caesar and later when the Muslims invaded Egypt. It housed the ancient world’s largest collection of papyrus scrolls aimed to have all of the world’s knowledge in one place.

I wandered through the main floor of the library, where there were exhibits with vintage printing presses as well as books in Arabic, French and English. You cannot check out any books from the library, only read them while you are there. There is a university nearby so I saw many students studying and using computers.

I got my fix for ancient books in the Manuscript Museum, where I saw a piece of papyrus originally thought to be in the first library, illustrated copies of the Quran and first editions of Arabic books.


The “Fac-simile des monumens colories de L'Egypte” is one of the original books in the library. It was an illustrated history of ancient Egypt done by the French. It’s how we now know what the temples used to look like.

The “Fac-simile des monumens colories de L’Egypte” is one of the original books in the library. It was an illustrated history of ancient Egypt done by the French. It’s how we now know what the temples used to look like.


The slanted roof has skylights and blue and green colors aimed at peace and relaxation.

The slanted roof has skylights and blue and green colors aimed at peace and relaxation.


The modern facilities of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

The modern facilities of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.


The French collection of books on the main floor. France donated 500,000 books to the library, making it the largest French collection in the Arab world.

The French collection of books on the main floor. France donated 500,000 books to the library, making it the largest French collection in the Arab world.


Art and exhibits, including a linotype machine created by the ‘second Gutenberg’ Ottmar Mergenthaler.

Art and exhibits, including a linotype machine created by the ‘second Gutenberg’ Ottmar Mergenthaler.


A student studies/takes a study break on her mobile.

A student studies/takes a study break on her mobile.


A Shakespeare book bench.

A Shakespeare book bench.


A copy of Shakespeare’s “The First Folio,” published in 1623.

A copy of Shakespeare’s “The First Folio,” published in 1623.


The oldest manuscript in the library, one of the Quran.

The oldest manuscript in the library, one of the Quran.


A copy of the Holy Quran.

A copy of the Holy Quran.


The copy of the “Gutenberg Bible,” the first book to be printed on a printing press in 1456. It looks like it was transcribed by hand to me!

The copy of the “Gutenberg Bible,” the first book to be printed on a printing press in 1456. It looks like it was transcribed by hand to me!


A page from the “Description de l'Égypte,” which was the collection of observations and research which were made in Egypt during the expedition of the French Army.

A page from the “Description de l’Égypte,” which was the collection of observations and research which were made in Egypt during the expedition of the French Army.


A copy of a papyrus scroll from the original library.

A copy of a papyrus scroll from the original library.


“The Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani)” is a copy of the original at the British Museum. The book held stories or spells that helped the spirits navigate the afterlife.

“The Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani)” is a copy of the original at the British Museum. The book held stories or spells that helped the spirits navigate the afterlife.

View of the Qaitbay Citadel on Alexandria’s Mediterranean coast.
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Alexandria, Egypt

Last weekend, I was fortunate to have time to take a day trip to Alexandria. Alexandria is north of Cairo and lies on the Mediterranean Sea, where the Nile River spreads out and drains into the sea. I learned in the Nile felucca post that the Nile runs south to north—which defies my logic!

The interesting thing about Alexandria is that it was founded by the Greek Alexander the Great so the Greco Roman influence is felt in the architecture, ruins and religion. It’s where Cleopatra courted Julius Caesar and later ruled fawith Mark Antony (now that is #goals). The sunny blue skies, white washed buildings and colorful boats gave more of an Athens than Cairo feel. I was elated by fresh sea air and blue skies!

Are we still in Egypt? The slanted building to the right is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Are we still in Egypt? The slanted building to the right is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Robert had a discount code from winning a photo contest with Urban Adventures so I used it for their day tour of Alexandria. Urban Adventures tagline is ‘Best. Day. Ever.’ And it really was. The drive time to Alexandria from Cairo is about three hours, give or take an hour depending on traffic.

Blue skies and palm trees in Alexandria. And it wouldn’t be Egypt without a couple of minarets!

Blue skies and palm trees in Alexandria. And it wouldn’t be Egypt without a couple of minarets!

We started at the city’s Kom el Shoqafa catacombs; I didn’t know it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. It was discovered in the modern age of 1900 when a donkey almost fell down one of its air shafts. The catacombs were the city’s underground burial place for humble residents and honored royals alike. When I first heard “catacombs,” my mild claustrophobia kicked in with visions of long, dark tunnels and skulls. Thankfully, the tombs were well lit with plenty of headroom and oxygen.

The artwork on the main familial tomb had both Greek influenced art—after viewing the drawings inside in the Sakkara tombs, I could see the difference. Greek art is more rounded and freestyled while Egyptian is more angular and uniform. Our guide said that if Egyptian artists had painted pyramid tombs as carelessly as the Greeks they would be fired!

Greek style art in the main burial chamber of the catacombs.

Greek style art in the main burial chamber of the catacombs.

Next, we passed by the Romans ruins of an amphitheater, which again, made me question where we were. The ruins were only discovered in 1960, accidentally again. They were purportedly used as a meeting or lecture hall.

The Roman Amphitheater in Alexandria.

The Roman Amphitheater in Alexandria.

After lunch, we started exploring my favorite part of the city, which is the corniche, or waterfront area. It was gorgeous!

Click any photo in the gallery to see a larger version and start a slideshow view

Our little group started to scatter in all directions to take pictures. With the city to our left and the water and boats to our right, we strolled until we reached the Qaitbay Citadel.

The Modern Mosaic by Fort Qaitbay. Mosque and minarets are pictured on the bottom left. Beside, stand the gods Taweret and Ra.

The Modern Mosaic by Fort Qaitbay. Mosque and minarets are pictured on the bottom left. Beside, stand the gods Taweret and Ra.

This citadel is built upon the exact location of the original Alexandria Lighthouse (one of the Ancient Wonders of the World). The lighthouse used to be the tallest manmade structure in the world, which is amazing considering it was on a tiny island.

Click any photo in the gallery to see a larger version and start a slideshow view

It’s unfortunate that of the tourists who do come to Egypt, few make it to Alexandria. I’m lucky to have experienced it and I’m looking forward to my next trip!

It's Me!

It’s Me!

Look for an upcoming post about the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Library).

An alley of the Khan el Khalili market.
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Cairo’s Khan el Khalili Market

Cairo’s most famous market, also known as “souk,” has been around since the 1500s. It’s popular with tourist and Egyptian shoppers alike; though like many “tourist” places in Egypt it was pretty lacking in tourists who looked like me. Come to Egypt, one and all!

Khan (the k is not pronounced) means ruler or king. Khalili refers to Prince Jaharkas Al-Khalili.

Khan el Khalili was on my list of things to see right away. I was interested in looking at the market’s famous gold and silver jewelry. I also wanted to find a Turkish coffee pot. I did a lot of window shopping and didn’t end up buying anything, but I may have to think about making room in my suitcases for some of the unique copper lanterns. The merchants weren’t pushy and let me browse in peace for the most part!

The market is situated next to a large mosque called Al-Hussein. Next to the mosque is a row of historic coffee and tea shops, where I stopped for some mint tea and people watching. Smoking shisha/hookah (water pipes with different flavors of tobacco) is a common pastime here also. It was a busy Saturday and lots of local tourists and families were milling around, making a visit to the mosque and souk.

For my next visit, I would like to come back in the evening. Cairo seems to come alive at night.

Check out the day tours by Emo Tours. Mine included the Museum of Egyptian AntiquitiesCitadel with the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Khan el Khalili Market and a stop at Abou Tarek Koshary.


Courtyard with Al-Hussein Mosque behind it serves as an entry point for the market.

Courtyard with Al-Hussein Mosque behind it serves as an entry point for the market.


Row of coffee shops on the way to the market. Can you spot the people smoking shisha?

Row of coffee shops on the way to the market. Can you spot the people smoking shisha?


Speaking of shisha, you can buy your own pipe to take home with you.

Speaking of shisha, you can buy your own pipe to take home with you.


The colors and designs of these small bowls are so appealing! Think they’ll survive the journey back to the U.S.?

The colors and designs of these small bowls are so appealing! Think they’ll survive the journey back to the U.S.?


The perforated copper lanterns are so romantic. I’ve got my eye on you…

The perforated copper lanterns are so romantic. I’ve got my eye on you…


More lanterns lined this wide alley.

More lanterns lined this wide alley.


Candleholders and lanterns. I’ve learned that the Hamsa is a palm-shaped design commonly used in jewelry and wall hangings.

Candleholders and lanterns. I’ve learned that the Hamsa is a palm-shaped design commonly used in jewelry and wall hangings.


Light fixtures and chandeliers.

Light fixtures and chandeliers.


This street featured the gold shops (some were closed) and street food. Do you see the flatbread vendor?

This street featured the gold shops (some were closed) and street food. Do you see the flatbread vendor?


Gold and silver street.

Gold and silver street.


The other side of the mosque. Can you see the policeman on horseback patrol? Or the woman balancing a bucket on her head?

The other side of the mosque. Can you see the policeman on horseback patrol? Or the woman balancing a bucket on her head?


Heading back into the heart of the market. The eye design on the wall is the Eye of Horus, which is a symbol for protection. I’ve seen women wearing necklaces with the shape.

Heading back into the heart of the market. The eye design on the wall is the Eye of Horus, which is a symbol for protection. I’ve seen women wearing necklaces with the shape.


Decorative beads.

Decorative beads.


T-shirts, belly dancing gear and figurines.

T-shirts, belly dancing gear and figurines.


A baladi bread seller appeared behind us with a balancing act on his head!

A baladi bread seller appeared behind us with a balancing act on his head!


Should I get a necklace with my name in Arabic?

Should I get a necklace with my name in Arabic?


Mint tea in front of Al-Hussein Mosque.

Mint tea in front of Al-Hussein Mosque.

Viktoria in front of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.
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Inside the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

I had a three-day weekend due to the Islamic New Year on Sunday, October 2 so I decided to take advantage of the time off and head out to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, or the Egyptian Museum, in downtown Cairo. The coral building is easily recognizable in the famous Tahrir Square, the site of the 2011 Revolution protests.

View from the side of the museum and its gardens. Can you spot the Cairo Tower?

View from the side of the museum and its gardens. Can you spot the Cairo Tower?

I hired a guide and I’m glad I did; the museum is a jumble and maze of mostly unmarked artifacts. It’s not the most organized or clean or secure museum I’ve ever been to—thousand-year-old stuff is strewn throughout rooms with signs that essentially say, do not lean on or touch the priceless tomb/statue/carving. But people do. The concept is very culturally Egyptian—proud but lackadaisical.

Entrance ticket is about $8.50 and to take photos, $5.50.

Entrance ticket is about $8.50 and to take photos, $5.50.

What it lacks in interpretation and modernity, it makes up for in dusty coolness factor. The museum is made up of items collected from various pyramids, including the entire collection of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Wikipedia says it has more than 120,000 items, not counting the ones that were gifted to Austria and other countries.

The main hall of the ground floor. I hope nothing falls over!

The main hall of the ground floor. I hope nothing falls over!

We started on the first floor (ground floor) with the collection from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. First, I saw the statue of King Djoser (Zoser), who built the world’s first stone step pyramid, which I had previously visited in Saqqara. The statue was collected from his pyramid and features the life-size (small!) king with the false chin.

King Djoser.

King Djoser.

Next, we headed through the main hall to see a stone pyramid top, or the Benben stone from the Pyramid of Amenemhat III. The pyramid below it has since crumbled, but the carved capstone or tip remains.

Guide Asmaa next to the capstone carved with a phoenix bird, which is a part of an ancient creation story.

Guide Asmaa next to the capstone carved with a phoenix bird, which is a part of an ancient creation story.

At the end of the hall is a colossal statue of Amenhotep III and his wife, Tiye, grandparents of the famous Tutankhamun. This statue is significant because it’s the first time a woman was depicted as the same giant size as her husband. Notice the size of their daughters at their feet. I later saw Tiye’s eerie mummy (see a photo on Wikipedia), complete with hair in the mummy room (no pictures allowed and that’s fine by me).

Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye.

Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye.

We headed to check out the artifacts surrounding King Amenhotep IV, who was the first pharaoh who decided to worship only one God. His story was featured on Morgan Freeman’s “Story of God” series (go DVR it right now). The show features the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians and the turn to a monotheistic (one God) worship by this king. He later changed his name to Akhenaten to include the name of the God Aten, or “sun.” Unfortunately, he became somewhat of a religious tyrant and his followers scratched out his name in his coffin so that his spirit would NOT return in the afterlife. His successor returned to a polytheistic rule.

Akhenaten’s wooden coffin found in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Look at the middle strip of the coffin. Can you see where the cartouche, or the symbols for his name, has been scratched out?

Akhenaten’s wooden coffin found in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Look at the middle strip of the coffin. Can you see where the cartouche, or the symbols for his name, has been scratched out?

The second floor houses the pieces of the famous kings and more solid gold bling. Namely, all of the 5,000 things that a boy king Tutankhamun could ever want for the afterlife. We saw his gold ceremonial chair, three funerary beds (in case he wanted to bounce from bed to bed, I guess) and four shrine gold boxes that held his sarcophagus and death mask.

Click any photo in the gallery to see a larger version and start a slideshow view

Due to all of the grave robbing, precautionary measures were taken to hide the body within the layers of gold coffins. I guess it didn’t matter too much because the location of his tomb was lost, not to be found until the famous discovery in 1922.

I also saw the museum’s masterpiece, the famous gold and colored mask of King Tut with the long false chin. It is 24 lbs. of solid gold. Alas, no pictures were allowed.

I hope to return again and explore the museum more on my own.

Check out the day tours by Emo Tours. Mine included the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Citadel with the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Khan el Khalili Market and a stop at Abou Tarek Koshary.